How to stop using drugs

I’m writing this for the benefit of anybody who is struggling to quit using drugs, anybody similar to the version of me from six years ago when my life fell apart for the first time, and no matter how much I wanted to quit using drugs, I couldn’t seem to get it right.

You know if this post applies to you… You’re the guy or girl who has lost count of the number of times you told yourself “Never again”. That was me a few years ago. I’d lock myself in the house over a weekend, planning to sleep for two days and go to work clean on the Monday. Then the dealer, who liked to pretend to be my friend, would come knocking on my door and I couldn’t say “No”. After that, my girlfriend and I lived together and used together, and it became even more difficult. Sure, we both went through phases of not wanting to use, but never at the same time.

Eventually every part of our relationship was about crystal meth. We’d use and then go out together, use and then have crazy sex marathons which we only snapped out of well past the point of pain, use and then watch movies, use and then eat, use and then sleep, use upon waking, use and then use, use and then I’d go to work… At work, all I cared about was making it to the end of the day so that I could get more drugs, go home and use again. At some point I realized that every aspect of my life, every second of every minute of every hour of every day, I was high. There was no part of my life that didn’t involve drugs, and my whole life was about drugs. My life before using drugs was only a vague memory and it was like looking back at somebody else’s life, and I could not imagine myself without drugs.

When you reach that point, there is no chance of stopping on your own. (Actually there may be, if you have already been to rehab before. I did stop by myself this last time, but more on that later. This post is especially for those who have never been in recovery.)

When you are so far gone that your entire life revolves around drugs, it is almost impossible to stop using them on your own. Even though you sincerely want to stop, you are chemically and psychologically dependant on your drugs, and as soon as you go without them for even a few days, the feeling that you need to use is too much to resist. If you’re honest about your addiction with friends and family this leads to catastrophe, because you’ll tell them that you are quitting, but will fail to do so, over and over again. Eventually they won’t believe you. The fact that you are not lying and are simply incapable of stopping on your own will never occur to them. The damage done to your relationships, with regard to broken trust and broken promises in this time when you try to quit on your own, may be so severe that it can never be repaired.

The answer to this dilemma is rehab. It is the only answer. What you need is to be in a safe place where you do not have access to drugs in that critical time of early recovery, and that is what rehab gives you.

There are many different kinds of rehabs. Some teach you that you are addicted because of your sins; some follow 12-step programs; some teach you valuable life skills that you may never have acquired, or have forgotten, in your time using drugs; some use a combination of techniques. All of them probably teach you about addiction and about your triggers and cravings, and try to teach you ways of coping with your addiction, to prepare you for when you are released. It doesn’t really matter what type of rehab you attend. All that matters is that you are in a place with no access to drugs for long enough to get past that initial phase where your dependence on drugs would drag you back into using.

I was lucky with my rehabilitation. I went to a place called Careline, in Hillcrest, Natal. Their program was a three-month one, and possibly longer for some people. The first three months involved mostly “life skills” classes, where the crux of the course was that you got to work through your own issues by writing about them, and going through them with the counsellor. In this time, I rediscovered my love for writing, and applied the course to my own life and issues, making it a deeply personal self-analysis. I was fortunate in that only after completing this course, step-work was the next part of the program. Since I took my entire four months there just to focus on the self-analysis, I never did step-work, and only found out about what working the 12 steps entailed after leaving rehab.

Take whatever is taught at rehab with a pinch of salt, but do what you can to fit in. I firmly believe that the 12 steps are utter nonsense, and I do not even accept step one. What’s important is to stay in rehab for long enough to get past that phase where you are overwhelmed by the “need” to use drugs. However, this does mean going along with whatever nonsense they teach you. Open scepticism will only get you accused of being in denial or not taking your recovery seriously, and could get you thrown out. My approach was to make the most of the opportunity – I went along with the religious and spiritual nonsense and hid my scepticism, but learned as much as I could about addiction itself when the opportunity arose (for example, videos and written material by doctors and psychologists), but when it came to the life skills self-analysis and personal counselling, I tried to apply everything to my personal experiences and applied myself as deeply and thoroughly as possible. Nobody ever told me that I didn’t take that seriously… On the contrary, the person running the life skills course complemented me on going into it more deeply than anyone else, and when I spoke at group meetings my words came with much thought behind them – enough that everybody shut up and listened, and for the first time in my life, I was well-liked and had many friends. When I left rehab, so many people came to say goodbye, I lost count of them. (A far cry from all those jobs I left in active addiction, with no farewell.)

After being released from rehab, it’s important to have structure and discipline. I hated meetings but tried to rely on them, and it didn’t work out well for me. After nine months I relapsed. Then I went through several phases of using and trying to clean up. Sometimes I stayed clean for months, sometimes weeks, sometimes only days, but eventually I managed to clean up for good, and that was just over twenty months ago. I did not need to return to rehab, but I believe that I was the exception to the rule.

Where I went wrong, I believe, is that I tried to rely on NA meetings and a 12-step program when I knew that I would never be able to believe in it. There are other ways to stay clean. My advice to anyone leaving rehab, especially if you are an atheist or a sceptic and will never be able to believe in the bullshit and woo of a 12-step program, is to have structure and discipline; set up a time-table and plan out your days – or just be busy at work, and most importantly of all: See a psychologist. Find a way to get evidence-based treatment for your addiction, such as CBT. Do not rely on an out-dated spiritual program that isn’t based on evidence. Such programs, unless you are credulous, gullible and easily indoctrinated into religious beliefs, are really no better than doing nothing at all.

Of course it also helps to have some reason, some motivation that drives you and is your reason for wanting to be clean and sober. In my case, it is the love I feel for my family, and what drives me is that even though deep down I may always want to use, I choose to sacrifice my desires so that I can be there for them. I do not accept that I will always be a recovering addict, so I call myself an ex-addict because I no longer use drugs. I do hope that one day I will be free of the temptation to return to drugs, but that day hasn’t come yet. Until then, I have a few techniques that I employ to prevent myself from repeating my mistakes. I have written about those techniques, and will continue to write about them, and anything else I learn on this journey through life and recovery. For me, like my career as a computer programmer where I am always a student and there is always more to learn, in life I am a student who never finishes learning, changing and growing to be the best person I can be.


Update: It’s also worth mentioning that there is no weaning yourself off of drugs. If you think you can, you are only fooling yourself. I had to admit to myself that I would always want “one more hit”, so weaning myself off really meant delaying cleaning up. As long as I had continued to try weaning myself off, I would’ve delayed cleaning up indefinitely. In fact, that’s why my last relapse lasted so long. I knew after a week that I had to stop, but put it off. The thing about procrastination is tomorrow never comes. It is always today.

My today lasted over two years, and the only way to stop was just to stop; to decide there and then that I would not have another hit, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. It’s OK to miss using. Yes, I miss it, and I don’t know how long I will continue to miss it, despite how bad it was for me. But missing it doesn’t change my decision not to do it again. And screw “just for today”. Just for today I will admit to myself that “just for today” is bullshit.

Also, my attitude to recovery is not the same as most people I met in NA meetings, the “true believers” as I call them. They stress that recovery is the most important part of their lives. “Recovery” as in working the steps with your sponsor and going to meetings. Recovery is important, but my life does not and will never revolve around it. I write about it with passion, sometimes anger (at myself), but my life is about more important things like my family, and being “normal”. Being in a perpetual state of recovery is something I view as unhealthy – almost as bad as being in active addiction. In my old life as a drug addict, my life revolved around drugs. (See the third paragraph of this post.) My life now does not revolve around drugs. When I look at the true believers, their lives still revolve around drugs just as much as it did when they were using. I will not live my life like that. Not anymore.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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