Sometimes I feel like I can’t take the credit, and don’t deserve the praise, for being clean

I tell people about my former meth addiction. I can’t help telling it because it was a huge part of my life for a long time. Also it’s often a way of making conversation. (I don’t know why it works that way but it does. I start chatting to somebody I’ve never met before; they offer some information about themselves, and somehow it always works out in context to be useful to mention my former addiction in the part of myself that I offer the conversation. I do so without any reservation about the stigma attached to addiction because I can be charming enough to make anyone look past the negative side.) Their response is always the same: Congratulations and praise. But I don’t feel like I deserve it.

At the end of 2010, I had been clean for nine months when Megan left me (by running away unexpectedly) two days before our son was to be returned to us. Then she did return in a month, but only after relapsing. I relapsed with her for a week, then managed to stop. Subsequently we had been clean for a month, and our son was placed back with us briefly. But certain people called Child Welfare, and based on an interview with Megan while I was at work, he was taken away again, this time in a formal arrangement, because they assumed that she was using drugs. But she wasn’t. (Note: I am not blaming anyone other than us.)

At the time, I saw no hope. My attitude may have been childish, but I thought that if we could be treated this unfairly, treated as if we were using when we were not, then we might as well use. So we did. Our relationship was also falling apart. Megan had cheated on me so many times before that, and I needed more time to get over it, so I rejected her sexually. I still loved her, but wasn’t ready for sex.

All she had to do was wait, give me time. But she didn’t. Instead she found someone else, and for a couple of crazy years, she went back and forth between him and me. Not really with me, but with my drug habit. She’d leave me for months at a time and not use drugs with him, only to return for a few days, use meth with me, and then run away again without telling me while I was at work.

It happened several times. I’d be depressed and obsessing about our failed relationship, go crazy with hearing voices, especially hers, yet be unable to stop using because it took the worst of my pain away. Then she’d return, and I’d hope that we could be a family again, dream of us cleaning up together and being happy, then after two or three days she’d leave without warning while I was at work. I’d come home to an empty apartment, then get even more depressed and use even more meth. My meth usage would escalate, months later the voices would reach a crescendo and then she’d return, promising not to leave this time. And I’d convince myself that I could believe her, that it would be OK, but it wasn’t. And so the cycle repeated, with me only dimly aware of the passing of time (for nearly three years), and the possibility that if I continued that way, I might lose my son forever.

I was a wreck. As much as I wanted to stop using, I could not, or so I told myself. Getting clean to get my son back didn’t seem to be working, especially since I spent most of my time crying about my failed relationship with Megan, moping around in self-pity and unaware that much of my depression was a side-effect of the meth. (When you come down, the brain is starved of dopamine, which causes a feeling of sadness. But it’s drug-induced, not real.) I just couldn’t get recovery right. I’d stay clean for a week, test negative in a drug test, see my son for an hour, and then end up buying more drugs on my way home. There seemed to be no end in sight.

Eventually Megan returned, with the other man’s then four month old child (the man had died tragically). I picked them up, drove home, and used as much as I could in the bathroom while they sat in my room. Then I threw all my remaining drugs and drug paraphernalia away. I stopped purely for practical reasons – because I could not use and tweak all night with a four month old baby sleeping in the same room as myself.

That was in September 2013. And somehow this time, after a couple of weeks clean, I realized that I did not want to use meth any more. So I didn’t, and that was that. No rehab, no program, nothing that I did was the key to my sobriety. Just wanting to be there for them was enough… Putting other people before myself. Aishah and Megan at first, then later our son, Josh, and others.

After that, my relationship with our son improved, and ultimately I got him back. (Through the court and social development… I’ve written about this before – it was a lengthy process that I won’t elaborate on in this post.) But I still feel guilty. Why wasn’t the mission of getting him back enough for me to get my act together in those three years? I let him down; I let everybody down then, and I don’t feel like I deserve any praise for quitting meth. It’s like I cleaned up by accident. Furthermore, although I often tell of all my failed attempts to clean up in the context of cleaning up being difficult, the last time it wasn’t. Sure, I had cravings and it was weird getting used to being normal, not tweaking, but there was no difficulty. On the contrary, having made the decision not to use any longer, it was easy from the beginning, and it’s gotten easier with time. Instead of feeling good about that, I feel bad. If it was so easy once I made the decision not to use, why couldn’t I make that decision years before?

(At the end of the day, I am terrible at explaining what worked for me and how I stayed clean, even though that’s often what people want to know. The simple truth is, once I made the decision not to use drugs, and knew in my mind that this was the final decision, staying clean was easy. But it sounds unbelievable. If I tell anybody who is still using drugs that all they have to do is decide to stop once and for all, they’ll tell me to fuck off. I can’t even say that you need to make that decision and have motivation, because for nearly three years I had motivation in the form of my son, and it wasn’t enough. It seems there is a difference between thinking that you have made the decision and really making the decision. Again, if I tell people that, it won’t mean much to them.)

Megan and Aishah left almost a year ago, but by that point I’d been clean for long enough to be able to stay that way without them there any more. But this was after bringing up her daughter for about 19 months. They’ve been visiting every two weeks or so, and Aishah and I are still close. But at the end of this month, they will be moving away, probably for good, and I will miss my little girl so very much. Josh will miss her too, but he doesn’t understand that she will probably be gone forever. He doesn’t understand the finality of this move.

He also doesn’t understand how hard I tried, and failed so many times, to clean up for him, and how guilty I feel that I was able to clean up because of his little sister. Although I am doing well now, I still feel like a disappointment. It’s all good now, and to be honest, we are closer without Megan around. He has no bond with her, and in fact his behaviour is bad even when she visits. It seems that he is better off without his mother. But he does love his sister.

We’ll be fine. But I do still feel all this guilt, and the sadness that Aishah will be gone from us soon. This photo was taken by Josh last weekend, when she was sitting with me at my computer:


Aishah, I love you and wish you could stay here with us. I will miss you very much. You changed my life. You are a beautiful and extremely intelligent little girl, and I would never have thought that something so good could come out of your mother’s behaviour. As much as she killed the person that I used to be, you brought me back to life, and I really wanted to be there for you for your whole childhood.

This post was scheduled to publish several hours ago, but I delayed it… I’ve been trying to figure out how to write what I wanted to write without saying all those bad things about Megan… But I can’t describe that last part of my addiction without it.

My intention wasn’t to make her look bad (and myself look good or more virtuous), not at all. She is not a bad person. I’ve always known that. I knew that when we met ten years ago. I was 34 and she was 16. I was an adult and she was only a juvenile. Not an innocent though – far from it. She’d had a troubled background and had run away from those in her family who cared about her, and was involved with a lot of shady people. She was with a drug dealer, a dangerous character at that. And all her “friends” were out to exploit her, treating her like a whore. But I could see though her and always knew that she was a good person.

So I stole her away from that drug dealer, and within a month he discovered that his other girlfriend and mother of his child was pregnant with another man’s baby. So he killed that girl with a bullet to the head, and went to prison. I wanted to save Megan, to take her away from all that, and I did. I never meant to fall in love with her, but it happened. And things went great for a couple of years. We did mean to have a child. We both wanted that. I thought that it would change us, give us a way to stop using drugs. But instead things turned bad… I remained focused on our son, and she… didn’t. After that we drifted apart, and for too long I didn’t realize that.

But all the bad things she did, she did because of her addiction. She is OK now, but it’s too late for us, and too late for her ever to repair the damage she did to her relationship with our son. But it’s not too late for her to be there for her daughter, and returning to her family in Cape Town is possibly in both of their best interests.

She also blames me for having our son removed initially, because I was part of that process. She will always remain in denial and will never realize that it was for the best at that time. So I’m feeling down after all of this, all these years of trying to make things work. I’m saddened that her daughter will no longer be near, and I worry what will happen to Aishah in future. I worry about things that are not in my control and that I cannot change.

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