Don’t give money to beggars (again). And how to tell when an addict who says they are clean is lying

Two topics for today, but they are related.

It’s easy for me to tell when a beggar who approaches me on the street or at a shopping mall, or elsewhere, is an addict. (They always are.) But let’s pretend I didn’t know that they are always junkies… How could I tell?

What I always do is, confront them about their drug habits. Throw it in their faces and state that I used to be an addict, I know another when I see one, and I will not sponsor somebody else’s drug habit. You might say that’s unfair, that I have no evidence for this assumption. But that doesn’t matter.

Here’s the thing: When somebody is unfairly accused of being an addict, if they really aren’t on drugs, they will react very differently to someone who is on drugs. Both will deny that they are on drugs, but the one telling the truth will react emotionally. Emotionally but not in anger. Their feelings will be hurt. Someone who isn’t telling the truth will flatly deny the drugs without any hint of emotion, then make it about you. You are wrong. You are not compassionate. You are accusing them without proof. “You don’t know me.” Oh, but I do. So not only will such junkies brush off the accusation, also if they are high enough or under the influence of their drug, they will probably react aggressively, possibly shouting and swearing. Thus it is very easy to manipulate such an addict into behaving such that they reveal their lies, regardless of how much they deny the drugs. It’s more than a little ironic that addicts, who are notorious for manipulating people, are generally not self-aware enough to be able to control their overreaction to such manipulation. (And tricking them this way when there are plenty of people around can be quite funny… They realize too late that they have been played, and that they have lost all the other potential targets of their scam.)

Yesterday, I was confronted by such a beggar in a different way, online. The twat in Romania had spammed an atheist group on Facebook, asking for donations on his website with an appeal to emotion, making some strange statements about the way atheists claim to be more compassionate than others. I don’t define compassion as being willing to give money to random people who ask. (It’s always a scam. Of all the people you can try such a scam against, atheists, sceptics and freethinkers are probably the worst candidates. They have learned to detect and reject lies.)

After I commented, much as I do in person, accusing him of being a junkie who just wanted money for drugs, the person went off the deep end. Firstly, he wrote something like “I don’t do drugs, lol” and then he became angry, making hateful statements about us because we didn’t give him money. Noticeable in its absence was any sense of shame. Someone desperate for help should be ashamed of their circumstances, but this guy was not ashamed in the least. His statements were all in line with what you might expect from somebody who is using drugs: Brush off the accusation, then turn aggressively on those who make it. After his initial post and my comment, I went and watched the second episode of Penny Dreadful, the series I’m watching at the moment. When I returned, he’d written a follow-up post taking screenshots of the atheists’ replies to him, accusing us of not being compassionate and not asking for evidence of his situation… His “evidence” was no doubt his scam. It’s like when a beggar approaches you in person and tells you their sob-story explaining why they need money. No need to listen to that. Besides, his response was all the evidence I needed to know that he was up to no good. (Idiot.)

So I learned something: Beggars online are no different to beggars offline. They beg for the same reason, and respond the same way when taunted. The only difference is that in real life, you can walk away from the beggar’s angry tirade; online they can keep spamming you even though it makes no sense to do so. Clearly the person was not thinking clearly – yet another sign that I was right.

For my second topic, I was thinking about recovery… There are many addicts who say they are clean, even though they are not. I used to be one of them. I’d convinced myself that I was “in recovery” for a while even though I really wasn’t. Of course, lying to yourself is the best way of being convincing to others.

So I was thinking about how to tell if somebody is doing that, and it is really easy:

  1. When somebody is truly not using drugs, they will be able to tell you exactly when they cleaned up. Maybe not the exact day, but at least the month when it happened. They will have an anecdote to tell about when, why and how they stopped using.
  2. Furthermore, being clean after years using drugs is accompanied by a sense of pride, of achievement. Cleaning up is difficult. They should be proud of how long they are clean as well as be able to tell you exactly how long that is.
  3. Following that point, if you ask an ex addict how they got it right, they will not give you vague answers like “control” or “willpower”. They will give highly specific details and be passionate about their reasons and motivations for cleaning up. They’ll even be able to tell you how many times they tried before, but failed.

In my case, I didn’t get recovery right for a long time. After initially cleaning up in October 2009, I made it to nine months clean, then my girlfriend and I relapsed together for a week. Then I stayed clean for another few months before screwing it up for good. After that, I was in and out, but mostly out of recovery, for around three years.

I don’t actually know the exact date when I cleaned up. I know it was when my ex returned, with her then four month old daughter. About a year before that, she had returned on the 4th September (2012), and it didn’t work out. Actually that was one of many times she returned and it didn’t work out, but for some unknown reason, that date stuck in my head. The last time, I cleaned up the day that she returned, and all I know is that it was sometime in September 2013, or maybe late August. So to make things easier, I picked a date. Rather than selecting 1st September 2013, I picked the 4th, like the year before. But the exact date doesn’t matter; I am now two years and about two months clean, give or take a couple of weeks. Picking a date made it easier anyway. (I don’t normally give even this brief version of my cleaning up anecdote. Normally I just say that I cleaned up in September 2013.)

I can also explain why I cleaned up and how difficult it was. It was, of course, exceptionally difficult at the beginning. The last year I was using around 2 grams of meth a day, and was absolutely dependant on the drug. It was more than just a habit or way of life. It was a state of mind, and I was addicted to that mental state that can only be attained by tweaking every day for years. I didn’t know how to work, how to feel, how to live without my drug. I went from that to somebody who didn’t use at all, in one day. (That’s the only way to quit amphetamines. There is no weaning yourself off.) And I did all that not for myself, but for my son and for his half-sister – at the beginning anyway. At the start, I quit meth even though I didn’t want to, and I stayed clean even though I wanted to use, for long enough to reach that point where I got used to being normal again, and my reasons for remaining clean changed. I can not explain how difficult that was at first. I do not have the words, although I’ve tried before. (Yet now, it is easy to remain clean. I am not at all interested in using drugs.)

On the other hand, somebody who is using but lying about it, will be able to relay none of those details. They won’t be able to tell you a story about when they cleaned up as I have just done above. They won’t be able to explain how difficult it was, and they won’t even know what it is about their drug that they are addicted to. (Tweakers do not know about the psychological state attained by tweaking. You only learn about that after you stop.) They won’t be able to tell you about when, why or how they cleaned up. If you press them for their clean time, they might make something up, but you’ll find they give a different answer if you ask the same question a month or two later, and they would have told different people different stories about when they stopped using drugs. Also their focus in life will not be where it should be. It will be nowhere. (When using drugs every day, the only thing that matters is to get more drugs.) They can fool people some of the time, however, but not all the time.

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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.
This entry was posted in Addiction, Methamphetamine, Recovery, Skepticism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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