We’re flying high, we’re watching the world pass us by…

Every once in a while, I am reminded of how long my sobriety hasn’t been.

Today I stumbled onto the news that one of my favourite authors of yesteryear, James Herbert, has passed away. But he died in 2013 and I didn’t know. In my teen years, which sadly was the last time that I read fiction regularly, he was one of the “big three” writers for me… Him, Stephen King and Dean R Koontz. In particular, Herbert and Stephen King drove my interest in horror in those years, and the combination of their written works helped formulate my opinion of what constitutes a good horror novel. James Herbert didn’t involve me in the lives and rich backstories of the characters as Stephen King did, but he also didn’t seem to reuse the same characters in different settings over and over like Koontz… He was somewhere in between, but his horror cut straight to the chase both viscerally and violently. His writing drifted into tiresome sentimentality in his later years, but I loved his earlier novels. (Though I should mention that I detested his habit of writing in the first person occasionally. I wished he didn’t do that.) Three that I read and reread several times as a young teenager were The Rats, Lair and Domain. The Rats was especially a favourite, since I read it at thirteen years old and loved the way he’d introduce a new character, going into great detail describing the person and his or her surroundings, only to tear them down in some horrific and violent manner a page or two later. Maybe I enjoyed it more because I was so young and hadn’t yet become desensitized to horror and violence. I could still read late at night and be afraid, feel real, tangible fear like I did as child who checked under my bed and in the cupboard to make sure there were no monsters before I could go to sleep.

So I was puzzled when I read the news… How could I not know? Then I checked the date of his death – March 2013… and it dawned on me: I cleaned up (for good) in September 2013. So this was one of the many things that I missed.

Let me clarify exactly what I mean… One of the worst parts of being a meth addict (or an addict of any other drug, I suppose), is like the words of the Depeche Mode song that I borrowed for this post’s title, the world passes you by. It really does. You don’t realize it at first, but as the addiction worsens, as the downward spiral turns, you become increasingly selfish and self-absorbed in a life whose sole purpose is the pursuit of pleasure, at the expense of personal relationships and being unable to relate to other people socially. That’s probably one of the reasons, besides the frequent criminality of addicts, that addiction is so severely stigmatised. We humans are social animals, and when one of our peers is unable to be the social animal that he or she is supposed to be, that person is shunned and shamed. You lose yourself in your own world, and while you’re there, the real world carries on without you.

It’s a dreadful realization. You only get one life, and to realize that your one and only life has gone wrong, is a tremendous shock, one that is awful to face. One day you wake up and understand that you have lost track, that you’re living in the past, not in the moment, and that while you still perceive yourself as you did years ago before you started using drugs, nobody else sees you that way anymore, and you are no longer that person. Further, life has changed, friends and family were lost or gave up on you, people you knew have lived and maybe died while you weren’t paying attention. It feels like there is no hope, like you have dug yourself into a deep pit from which escape is impossible, and maybe the only option is to carry on using drugs… Give up on yourself and lose yourself completely rather than face reality, because reality, and departing from a life of drugs and dazed, blissful ignorance, which has become all you know, seems better than the alternative. The alternative is unknown and seems inconceivably difficult. At least that’s how it felt for me. (Really, despite the drugs being the cause of so much loss at that point, my first thought at the realization of my predicament was, “I feel so bad… I need a hit!” Thinking anything else took effort, concentration, dedication and strength that I thought I didn’t have. That’s the way addiction works.)

Maybe that’s why so many people never clean up? Maybe that’s why many who do, are content to embrace woo and bullshit in 12-step recovery culture? (I can’t find a good link that describes 12-step programs as woo right now. But trust me, it is accepted in the sceptical community that 12 step programs are not based on evidence and are not as effective as people believe. OK, sceptics will tell you that such programs don’t work at all, but I know many who believe that they do. It’s a placebo effect.)

The point I’m trying to make here is that the realization that the world has passed you by, in your addiction, is a tough one to face. But it is something that must be faced, must be overcome. At least for me it was. Once I realized just how badly my life had gone wrong, I made damn sure I got back control of it. I didn’t get it right on my first attempt, but I didn’t give up until I got it right.

Yet finding news as I found today, a reminder of a time when I wasn’t paying attention and was unaware of what was happening in the world, is a sobering thought. It is a stark reminder of how bad things were, and that I have only been clean, sober and normal again for a little over two years and six months. It’s a reminder that I shouldn’t take this for granted, and shouldn’t be too arrogant about my success so far, although I am absolutely certain I will never use that drug again. I should never allow myself to get too cosy or cocky about this, but also I should always remind myself how great it is to be clean, sober and normal. I should relish every moment, and continue proudly sharing my thoughts and progress. After all, for a long time I thought that I would never come right, but I did, and if I can, so can others. I hope that my words can inspire others who might otherwise be tempted to give up, and that my frequent sarcasm can get through the blissful daze of others deeply enough to penetrate their layers of denial and wake them up enough to realize what they need to do. (Believe it or not, even my sarcasm when mocking addicts still using, comes with good intentions.)

In those last three years that I used, I had a line that I liked writing, when pretending to be clean even though I really wasn’t… It was a line I used to criticize others with intentional irony, knowing at the time that it also applied to myself:

Life is always a grand adventure when you don’t know what the fuck is going on.

The statement may be true, but life is so much better when the world isn’t passing you by.

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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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