Facing the mirror – was it difficult for you?

After a recovering addict with her own blog linked to me (here), I’ve spent some time reading her blog. It’s well written and interesting, but I must confess my failure to identify… It’s been more than three years since I attended an NA meeting, and I haven’t been following any other recovery blogs. As time goes by, I find myself further and further removed from other addicts, even those who take an alternative approach to recovery. It makes writing about recovery incredibly difficult. I do so anyway because some people have said I can be inspiring, so I feel like I have an obligation to those who are still struggling with addiction, as I was for years, if for nothing else other than to let them know that one can change completely from being an addict to being someone without any remaining interest in using drugs; this is contrary to the oft repeated notion that we remain addicts who must work on sobriety for life as if addiction is a chronic condition. (It isn’t. Not for me, therefore there must be others who feel the same way. Right?)

When I first wrote about my addiction, I could do so with candor because I detached myself from the reality of living with addiction. I found that a good way of writing about horrific experiences because being detached meant I could be open but not feel vulnerable or ashamed. I’m no longer merely detached… I just don’t feel it any more. I identify neither with a desire to use nor a desire to “work” on being sober. There is no drive to strive to be clean without a corresponding desire or temptation to use substances. Sometimes I feel like an imposter because this doesn’t feel like an achievement – I’m simply living my life.

(Apologies – that introduction was longer than I intended, and the intended point of this post is going to be short.) This isn’t the first time I have not identified with other addicts… Back in 2010 when I went to rehab, the group counselor asked us to do an exercise called “Facing the mirror”, which sounds like exactly what it is.

Everyone was asked to go to the front of the room when it was their turn, and individually face the mirror. I don’t know if it was because she introduced this as a difficult task, but some people, who had been in the rehab for longer than myself (they ran a rotating three month course – but also did long term rehab of up to two years) absolutely could not face the mirror. Their shame and self-hatred was of such severity that some refused even to try.

I went to the mirror, and was like… “Hi, you good looking guy. Hey everybody, look at me! I’m beautiful!” Honestly, I did suffer with self-hatred at the lowest point of my addiction, but that faded instantly when I escaped my situation, and I never had an issue with my looks, even when I looked like death warmed over. Well, maybe my issue is narcissism. Or vanity. Sorry not sorry. It’s important to love yourself, especially if nobody else will.

So I wonder… is this “facing the mirror” thing really a big deal for recovering addicts? Maybe it was there only because the counselor primed the residents into that view by telling them it was? My Google searches on the subject are not getting decent results, and instead I’m finding nothing related to it.

Are you a recovering addict and was facing the mirror a big deal for you, and if so, did you eventually get over it? Help me understand… Is this about shame, self confidence, self esteem, self-hatred… what?

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“It’s important to admit that you have a problem” is not a cliché. Here’s one reason why.

Excuse the clickbait-like title. But it’s not clickbait. If it were, it would list 40 reasons in a slide show format, with each page increment generating revenue for some twat somewhere.

Work has been hell for me lately, because one person has not been performing. The rest of us have taken up the slack, and there have been disastrously revealing progress meetings every day. It all came to a head yesterday with a client facing demo that went sideways.

I don’t believe my colleague is on drugs, but that doesn’t matter. This has all been a reminder back to when I was in a similar position in 2009. I’m not going to reveal any more details about then or now. Suffice to say, it ended badly for me. (The rest of this post is not about my colleague, but about addicts such as I was, and why it is important to seek help.) When something is very wrong but you aren’t open about it and don’t ask for help, there will be consequences.

Here’s what I should have done, and what I advise anybody in such a position to do: Go to HR, or to your boss in a small company, and tell them you have a problem. Admit that you are doing them a disservice by continuing to work and that you need time off to get the help you need, be it personal time, therapy, or rehab.

Of course that’s a risk. You might lose your job anyway. (Even if your country has a law stipulating that employers need to help employees who admit to such problems, you are still admitting to misconduct, which is probably a fireable offense.) You might lose your job, but you probably won’t. People appreciate candor. People respect you for telling the truth and taking personal responsibility for your problem. People do not appreciate denial and lies, especially if it hurts them financially, whereas someone who admits they need help demonstrates that they are taking responsibility and shows that they can be trusted. It shows a willingness to accept wrongdoing and to correct it.

In my case, I had medical aid, and could have gone to a three week fully paid rehab. That doesn’t sound long enough, but in reality it is more than long enough to get off meth. In the end, I did that myself (got off meth, I mean – no rehab and no “safe” place away from the reality of everyday life), but only four years later, over a weekend, and had to suffer at work through my detox, mood swings, and cravings. (Quitting without rehab is possible, but I don’t recommend it unless you know you can. I knew I would succeed because once I make up my mind, nothing stops me.) But if I’d followed this advice I’m giving in retrospect, I would have been nine years clean now rather than five.

The truth is, when you don’t seek help, you do harm to your employer and all your colleagues. You aren’t doing any good by staying at work. You don’t even care about your job. You’re probably paranoid and afraid of people knowing the truth, but mostly, you carry on working because you care about your drug. And that’s all. Your salary is important to you because it buys you drugs, and effectively you’re saying “Fuck this job and fuck my responsibilities”. In doing so, you deserve to be fired, because you are a liability and cannot be trusted or relied on.

Faces after meth

A few years ago, I stumbled on the so-called “faces of meth” online, with disgust.

The faces of meth, as usually presented, are a bunch of mug shots showing people after they were ravaged by years of meth abuse. Subjects in such photos are normally career criminals and/or people who spent years living on the streets. They exist normally with the pretense of being a deterrent from meth use, but really are nothing more than an excuse for low life arseholes to laugh at the misfortune of others.

Ironically, besides the fact that those photos are often so far removed from reality that everybody who uses drugs will actually ignore them, and removed just enough such that people tempted to use drugs will think “that could never be me“, they are often not even truthful. For example, the “before” shot of a pretty teenager before she goes down the road of meth and prostitution… probably shows her after five years or so of meth addiction, because most users start young.

Anyway, I thought I’d switch things around a little, and show you photos of myself, both at the worst of my addiction while at the lowest point in my life, and also now, at five years and one month clean.

My faces of meth

These were taken in May of 2008, with my son when he was one month old and I was 36, and in August of 2008. (Yes, he was born with all that hair.)

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My faces after meth

And these were taken earlier this evening, 8th October 2018. Note that there is a ten year age difference. Josh is now ten, and I’ll be 47 in exactly two weeks.

There’s aren’t even great photos. I suck at taking selfies.

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A disturbing search string

Somebody got here by searching for “would meth get kids as horny like it does adults”.

Firstly, that kind of moronic grammar really gets to me… “As horny like“? Really? Secondly, you should go to your local police station and ask there. Seriously, paedophiles deserve to be killed. So do rapists.

The last week or two, I’ve seen men (and even some women) defending rapists and rape culture. I’ve also seen numerous examples of prominent people blaming victims. It’s all over social media and it makes me sick.

I didn’t intend writing this. It’s just a response to all the shit I see all the time. For the record, a woman can walk down the street buck naked at 3AM, and she still doesn’t deserve to be raped. It’s never the victim’s fault.

Yes, using meth leads directly to voices in your head.

Every so often I see more search strings that lead people here as they try to find out if meth is causing the voices in their heads. It is. My most popular post on the subject is this one. Intended to describe how the voices start with audio pareidolia, the post goes a little further than just that. I suggest you read it as well as the comments, but also, I’d like to add some info around that subject today.

I like to think of myself as a rational, reasonable person, so before I first used meth, I researched it. At that time, around 2005, I didn’t find anything about it causing voices. That’s a pity. Maybe I’d have been sensible enough not to start if I had known. Anyway…

  • Not everybody who uses meth will hear voices, but you have no way of knowing for sure if they do…
  • Not everybody who hears voices knows they hear voices. Some people are oblivious or get delusional right away.
  • When they first start, the voices come and go, but the more you continue to use meth, the more they come and the less they go. Eventually you will hear them all the time.
  • If you don’t stop using meth soon enough, the voices can be permanent. They eventually will not stop even if you quit the meth. That’s why it’s really important to realize that the voices are a sign that your drug problem is serious, and that you need to stop before it’s too late. I can’t emphasize this enough… If you hear voices that aren’t really there, it means that something is going wrong in your brain. This is something to take seriously.
  • You can cope with the voices by controlling them to a limited extent. For example, if you’re paranoid and the voices are saying bad things about you, you can make them say nice things about you. I don’t recommend this and I’ll explain why further on.

If you read the linked post and the comments, you’ll notice that there are a lot of “me too” kind of comments from people who have experienced similar voices. That post has taken on a life of its own in the comments and I’ve left commenting on because it really shows how serious the problem is. There are also people who have lost the plot a long time ago, people who tell you the voices are from god, or demons, or government mind control, or whatever they believe in their psychosis. There are also loved ones of addicts who explain how they have tried to help but to no avail. And there are people who have stopped using meth but still hear voices.

The only time I recommend finding ways of coping with the voices is when you have already stopped using meth, but the voices are permanent. In that case, there are things like a “hearing voices network”. I don’t know where in the world they are and what they do. I know only that they exist. Good luck to you.

But if you’re still using meth, and hearing voices, quitting meth is the only thing to do. I don’t recommend controlling the voices, and here’s why…

The human brain is terrible at multitasking. Multitasking as we know it is a myth. For example, imagine that I have two programming tasks at work. They’re different projects. One is a WCF service written in C#, that uses XML. The other is a Node.js project in JavaScript, using lots of AJAX and JSON. To switch between them, I have to remember the difference between the programming languages used, what frameworks and API’s are involved, what the names of methods, variables and so on is, where to set breakpoints, how each program flows, what features or bugs I am looking at, and so on. Every time I switch tasks, I also have to switch context, and that takes time. The more tasks you have or the more often you switch between them, the more context switches your brain must perform, because you can only focus on one task that takes concentration and effort at a time. The reason you get nothing done if you have too many tasks to work on, is that you end up spending more time switching context than you spend working on the tasks themselves.

Coping with voices in your head is the same. You use your conscious mind to cope with them, whether it is to control and “listen” to them or some other technique. Every time you do so, you effectively context switch to an internal mental task. You disengage from the real world, from everybody and everything around you, and focus on this internal pointless task. Since you hear voices all the time, this means you spend most of the time disengaged from the world. From the point of view of everyone around you, you are doing nothing. You’re zoned out and staring into space, like a zombie. (This is on top of the already numerous symptoms you display from using meth. Pupils dilated, tense and grinding your teeth or cracking your jaw, twitchy, edgy, itchy, irritable, confused, either moody or abnormally and noticeably cheerful and silly, probably not talking too much because you have tolerance for the drug but still probably unable to sit still – or the opposite and not moving at all but focused single mindedly on a single and repetitive task, and so on.) You really do stick out like a sore thumb when using meth. It’s not the paranoia – people really do know something is wrong as you draw attention to yourself. They might not know what it is but they do know something is not OK.

Even if you don’t try to cope with the voices, you will end up “listening” to them, thinking about what they say – it doesn’t matter that you know the voices aren’t real. Hearing them leads to responding to them, directly or indirectly. Even trying to ignore them requires conscious mental effort, and as you hear them more and more while you continue using meth, you further disconnect with the world around you. The longer you go on doing this, the more often you forget that the voices aren’t real. (Sometimes it’s impossible to tell the difference. For example, I’d become paranoid and convinced that everyone I worked with was aware of my drug use. I’d hear them talking about me from elsewhere in the office. I’d hear it in their actual voices, as if from various distances and directions. “Voices in your head” does not suitably describe what you think you hear.) Eventually you will lose yourself in delusions and psychosis.

So this is my advice to anyone hearing voices from using meth: First stop using meth, and then, if the voices don’t stop after two or three days, seek mental help.


Obviously I’m oversimplifying here when I write “first stop using meth”. It’s not so easy, but then not losing your mind is one hell of an incentive to stop. It was for me.

The danger of treating addiction as a disease

When you treat addiction with a 12 step program, it’s about as useful as treating a driver who drove into a tree by talking to him about the tree. Why did you drive into this tree? Is it because the tree is green? Trees are good for the environment, you know? Let’s sit together and pray. Maybe write a letter to the tree and say sorry. Let’s go to a meeting and sit with lots of other people who drove into trees and talk about the trees.

My analogy is absurd, but accurate. As in my analogy where the problem dealt with is never even the driving, let alone finding out whatever caused such reckless driving, when you work a 12 step program, it’s never about your choices, let alone why you made those choices. They say, “look at the similarities rather than the differences”, and sure, we are all similar. We all fucked up in the same way. We all got dependent on drugs, felt isolated because we isolated ourselves, and once dependent, all developed the same sort of problems as a consequence of our behaviour. By looking at our similarities, we do nothing about our actual problems or their root cause, but sure, let’s sit together and ask a higher power to fix us. Or just talk to the fucking trees.

It only makes matters worse to then say, “But addiction is a disease”. If you have a disease that can’t be cured, you have a wonderful excuse not to stop using drugs, or to relapse and deny any accountability. “I can’t help it. I have a disease.” Well, boo-fucking-hoo.

Likewise, when you return to meetings, it is with the usual excuses… “I wasn’t working the steps properly” or “I wasn’t truly in recover” (Yeah, and you ain’t a true Scotsman either), but that doesn’t mean shit when the steps don’t address your real problem anyway. Relapse isn’t exactly encouraged, but it is taken as par for the course, so they condone it.

Make no mistake, addiction is a disease, but not for the reasons you think. Recently I found this out after asking the question on Skeptics Stack Exchange. Is addiction a disease? The answer surprised me but I accepted it because it is technically correct…

Addiction is a disease not because of evidence, not because of it being any kind of sickness, not because of it being a medical condition (It isn’t), but because it is defined as a disease. That’s all. It’s a disease because enough people have a problem with it, because the definition of addiction and disease itself are vague and open to interpretation, and addiction had to be catalogued as something.

Unfortunately that means two things:

  1. As long as addiction is assumed to be a disease, it will be used as an excuse either not to stop using drugs or to justify relapse, because you externalize the problem and never take personal responsibility, as well as fail to even try addressing the root cause of your behaviour.
  2. There are people who will use it against you. No matter how long you are clean, even if it is several or many years with no symptoms of addiction and no interest in using drugs, there are people who will claim that you always have a risk of relapse because you have a disease and can never have control, and these people will dismiss everything you say, and use it against you in any way they can.

I can’t do anything about the second point. As for the first point, my advice is not to assume it is a disease. It can’t be treated as one anyway, because there is no medical treatment for addiction. In the end, it doesn’t matter if addiction is a disease, a chronic condition, or something else, but treating it as a disease only leads to problems.

Clean time is not nearly as important as not giving up

At the end of last week I wrote my five years clean post and shared it on Facebook. One of my friends there, someone I care about even though we have never met and she is in another country, congratulated me and also mentioned that she had relapsed recently. This made me feel bad.

I always feel like a hypocrite when writing about clean time. This last five years have been easy, and when somebody congratulates me for my “hard work”, I always want to point out that I haven’t worked hard on this. Sure, I took part in two programs in order to comply with a court order to get my son back (and succeeded), but I did not start either of those programs until I was already well over a year clean and already confident that I would stay clean.

So I feel hopelessly unqualified to give anyone advice. I don’t know how I did this. I did struggle before. Those last three years were horrible. I remember one day in early 2011, I was in my flat alone, pacing up and down, telling myself, “I’m not gonna buy. I’m not gonna buy. I’m not gonna buy”… for four hours. Pacing from the lounge to the bedroom and back, repeating that line over and over again. And then I did buy meth, and I kept doing so until I quit in 2013.

I was high almost every day (and night), with an occasional six to seven days clean just to see my son, because my brother and his ex (who fostered him) wouldn’t let me see Josh unless I tested negative. Then I’d stop at a dealer and buy more on the way home. So if you can stay clean most of the time, and only use occasionally – the opposite of me in those three years… then you’re doing better than I was. Never mind clean time… just keep trying.

I was struggling just like every meth addict who struggles, and how I got from there to here, how I transitioned from someone who could not imagine not using, to someone who has no interest at all in using and who never craves… I do not know. If I were a religious man I might say, “God flicked a switch in my brain”, but that answer, which involves no thinking, doesn’t mean anything. I could tell you, “It was time. You have to be ready to stop” but that answer is trite and untrue. The real answer is I don’t fucking know.

I was no less of an addict than anyone else, and I am not special. Although I don’t understand how I really quit and stayed clean so easily, what’s important is that it wasn’t always easy for me. I struggled too, but my struggle was before this five years clean. This is why I don’t consider them such a special achievement. Achieving clean time when you have no interest in using drugs is no big deal. It’s getting there that’s the difficult part. If you are struggling, as I was, don’t give up. I don’t really understand what I did right, but if you are struggling and you keep trying, you can succeed too.


Update: Worth adding… Megan is also clean. After we went to rehab in 2010, they recommended long term rehabilitation for her there. (Two years.) I took a lot of flak for ignoring this recommendation, and my family members were quick to blame me when she relapsed. But despite that, after we both relapsed and split up, she cleaned up before me. That makes her six years clean. She is religious, unlike me, but she doesn’t do meetings either. So that’s two of us who cleaned up… We didn’t get it right straight away, but we did eventually get it right.

I know of many others, people in atheist and skeptic groups, who used to be addicted to drugs. And most of them quit without the conventional (12 step) approach to recovery. What I’m trying to say is that recovery is possible, and has been achieved by many people, most of whom are outside of “the system”, outside of NA, AA and other 12 step programs. Most importantly, outside of any area where statistics on recovery are collected. Any statistics you read about the small percentage of people who stay clean… exclude most people who stopped using drugs. Any person who tells you, when it comes to quitting drugs, that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results”, literally has no fucking clue what they are talking about. When it comes to quitting meth (and other drugs) and staying clean, it is crucial to ignore everyone who says you can’t do it, and just keep trying.

Five years clean

Normally I’d wait until September 1st, tomorrow… to write this post. But tomorrow is Saturday and I’m going to be busy this weekend. I don’t see myself getting to writing anything at all this weekend, or even spending any time on Facebook. Life is more important to me that writing or recovery. So today it is then.

This seems fitting somehow, fitting to my (non) approach to recovery. The last time I attended an NA meeting was around March 2015. I still made a joke of my share, mentioning that I went there (the rehab where I did my outpatient program – which I did only to comply with a court order to get my son back) out of habit, and that all I wanted from them was my 18 month clean key tag, knowing very well that they didn’t keep tags going until that long because that place was mostly an inpatient rehab. This guy, Nick, asked why the tags were important to me if I didn’t care about meetings…

I figured he had a point. Not the point he intended, maybe, but a point nonetheless. His implication was that I “needed” those meetings just like he believed he did, even though he was seven years clean, living in Dubai, flying here to Johannesburg and attending meetings occasionally. But Nick did have a point… Why attend meetings and then diss them? (Especially if those meetings are important to the others there.) Why place any value in those key tags anyway? So I didn’t “keep coming back” and haven’t been back since. Can’t say I miss them.

Anyway, five years is good. It’s a milestone I’ve been looking forward to achieving. I’m glad to have reached it, and will continue to write a post tagged “milestones” every year around this time as long as I’m still alive to write it. Keep coming back…

Even skeptics have blind spots when arguments agree with their beliefs? (On an argument stating that addiction is a disease.)

Well, this sucks. I shared to disagree with this bad argument the other day, only to find that some of my friends, who are atheists and skeptics, agreed with it.

ChoiceStrawman

Now consider this:

People who think Jesus is not God

You’re simply incorrect. It is not an opinion or debate because Jesus has been known to be god since about 50AD. The facts have disagreed with you for nearly two thousand years. You are not a priest and your Facebook rants have no merit because the theological community views Jesus as the True God. Pick up the Bible and Jesus will be there. It is a theological FACT that Jesus is God. Believing otherwise is literally delusional.

It is irrelevant whether or not addiction is a disease, although I believe it isn’t a disease and I’ll make my case further on for interest. The point I want to get across today though, is that this is a poor argument.

  1. Nobody claims addiction is a choice. That’s a straw man. I chose to use meth, not to be an addict. Addiction is a bunch of things, including being chemically dependent on a drug, being psychologically dependent and convincing yourself that it being difficult to stop means you can’t (hence falling for the “you were powerless” claim of 12 step programs is easy), and the behaviours associated with the effects of the drug on your brain, including denial of having a problem.
  2. How long something has been believed doesn’t make the claim true.
  3. Not all doctors, psychologists, or neuroscientists accept that addiction is a disease. Cherry picking only literature that agrees with you is an example of selection bias. The lines are blurred… I can’t do an online search and easily find where the dogmatic NA/AA info ends and real science begins, or determine how much bias there is in science that presupposes 50 years of 12-step type dogma to be right. There are published papers that support both conclusions and I am not qualified to read most of them. (But keep point one in mind – nobody is claiming that addiction is a choice and real arguments against it being a disease are more nuanced than this meme will have you believe.)
  4. Asserting that those who disagree with you are delusional while not even considering what their actual arguments may be, but instead arguing against the “addiction is a choice” straw man argument, is a great way of dismissing contrary views without knowing what they are. It’s also ad hominem. (You are delusional if you don’t agree with me… Seriously?)

I found it shocking that some of my fellow atheists and skeptics could agree with such a terrible argument. I’m disappointed.

Whether or not addiction is a disease is not the point today, but just to clarify my views…

I chose to use drugs. Then I became dependent on those drugs, chemically and psychologically. My behaviour and brain chemistry was altered by the drugs, but not in any way that wasn’t expected. My argument is simply that every effect fell within the expected and predictable neuroscientific effects of methamphetamine on my brain. So addiction is nothing more than a name for a bunch of symptoms and behaviors around something that is quite normal, a brain responding to adverse conditions. Stop the drugs for long enough and all those symptoms disappear. So if this is a disease, it is one that can be treated effectively by doing nothing at all, which has worked very well for me by the way. Next month I’ll be clean for five years.

Furthermore, the standard way of treating addiction via 12 step programs is nothing more than a placebo. I don’t care whether or not you believe in god or a higher power. I don’t, but even if we were to assume that this god exists, the “relationship” that you have with it is one-sided. It’s all in your head. And so is the way treating addiction works. As I see it, addiction treatment is all about bullshitting yourselves into thinking you are actually doing something about your addiction, even though you are not. In reality, you are doing nothing, just like me, but thanks to the placebo effect, you think you are actually working on your addiction. Bullshit baffles brains.

Thanks for reading.

What the 12 steps are really about.

After reading a friend’s Facebook statuses and reminding myself how much I hated 12 step programs, I felt inspired to write this. It may not be my most eloquent post, but it is truthful as fuck.

  1. Step one: Bullshit.
  2. Step two: Bullshit.
  3. Step three: Bullshit.
  4. Step four: Bullshit.
  5. Step five: Bullshit.
  6. Step six: Bullshit.
  7. Step seven: Bullshit.
  8. Step eight: Bullshit.
  9. Step nine: Bullshit.
  10. Step ten: Bullshit.
  11. Step eleven: Bullshit.
  12. Step twelve: Bullshit.

Next month I’ll finally be five years clean. Yippee! No bullshit.