Another craving, some inspiration and a memory of the worst of my past

A week ago I wrote about a craving and my best way of dealing with it. Earlier today, that same nagging itch bitched at me once again. Just one… nobody will know. “Bullshit”, I say. “It’s never just one.”

I’ve been wondering why these cravings have returned. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trying to salvage some of the (c# application) code I wrote in my last extended relapse. I did write some good code, albeit buried in thousands of lines of mediocrity. Maybe my looking at the good things I did while under the influence has unconsciously allowed me to romanticize those times. It’s too easy to do… Remember the good and forget the bad.

Then today I discovered something online that I didn’t know: One of my favourite writers, Stephen King, had more than a casual brush with addiction himself. In the eighties, when he wrote some of my favourite books, he spent most of that decade on one long cocaine and alcohol binge. He achieved great commercial success, but nearly lost his family and then nearly his life. Yet he overcame it all, and is still going strong as a writer, without the addiction. If he can do it after spending so much time in his addiction, so much time that he was at one stage afraid to stop because he feared that he would not be able to write while sober, then we can all learn from his lesson. We can all be inspired by it.

As for that craving – it was easy to ignore because I really do not want to go back. I never want to go back. I will not go back.

Today I didn’t use the same technique as last time to deal with the craving. Instead, I thought about writing this post; as I drove my son home from dinner I pre-planned this post in my head. I find it easy to write in my head, then when I get around to sitting down and writing, it’s just a simple regurgitation of the words from my brain onto the screen, with maybe a tweak to the phrasing here and there.

Last week I wrote about what will happen if I were to use again. This time, I remembered something that did happen in my past. Not from the last extended relapse, but from my time before attempting recovery the first time. It’s an event that I was lucky to survive unscathed, and yet it was about one and a half years before I hit my rock bottom. Here follows my unpleasant memory…

It was around February 2008. Pay day. It was to be a year before I lost my house and all my possessions, but was a couple of months after I wrote off my car. (Without a scratch to myself – I’m always lucky.) I’d been without drugs for two days because my money had run out, so I was pleased to have been paid. Having received the SMS notification on my phone, I set off at around 11PM. First to the ATM, then to the dealer.

I stayed in Muizenberg, Cape Town. Although there were some “dealers” in the area, they were too small time. What I wanted was high quality methamphetamine at a good price. The local “dealers” were just addicts who couldn’t work, so they sold some of what they bought to the addicts who didn’t know that there were better quality dealers around.

Without a car, my options were limited. The closest dealer I knew of that had reasonably good quality drugs, was a man named Clyde, who lived in a not-so-safe area called Vrygrond. (Or was it Claude? Names from those days stuck in my mind like wet toilet paper to a shaving cut – not for long.) This area was on the other side of Prince George Drive, directly across from Marina da Gama. Not the place for any middle-class white guy to be walking after 11PM with a couple thousand Rand in his pocket. But I figured that after driving there so many times… What could go wrong?

So after drawing the money at the ATM, I walked briskly to the dealer. I was tired and weak. I had neither used nor eaten in two days. From the Marina side, crossing Prince George Drive, I walked about fifty meters in, then turned left into the first road. Then about three hundred meters. Once you get there, you’re far away from “civilization”, in a world of poverty and drugs. Scream there and nobody will hear you, nobody who gives a fuck anyway.

The road then turns 90 degrees to the right. Just before I reached the bend, I heard two other pairs of footfalls, closing in on me. As I turned, they stopped, so I knew they were somewhere around that corner.

I walked on, because it was another twenty meters to the dealer. I reached the dealer and made my purchase. Then I had a decision to make: Turn around, walk back the way I came and face the two muggers, or go even deeper into that area, into the dark. This would be the path I usually used to drive. It meant another fifty-odd meters, then turn right into a road parallel to the one with the muggers, then right again onto the road that entered this area. Head out on that road that forms a junction with the other end to the road where the muggers are. This is quite the dilemma. I knew there were two muggers. If they had any brains between them, they’d know which way I was heading. So they could either follow me deeper into this place, or double back and ambush me anyway when I took the only road out of there.

Here’s a map, with my route marked crudely:


I walked from Muizenberg at the bottom. Vrygrond Ave is the road into that area. Then left and up to the corner where I heard the muggers, and finally right and a bit further to the dealer. That area between Prince George Drive and the corner is just an open field, meaning that they saw where I came from. Thus if I went forward, deeper into even more potential danger, they could double back and ambush me on Vrygrond Avenue.

Edit: I neglected to mention that there were no working street lights in Vrygrond. It was pitch black, and walking into there was like walking back to the dark bedroom of my childhood – more than just facing my fear of the dark because this dark was a place with real danger. Die there, and there’s a chance that nobody will ever find your body.

So I decided to retrace my steps; walk right back towards the muggers.

I saw the first one as I reached the corner. I didn’t see his friend. As I got there, he asked me a stupid question to distract me. I started to run, but mugger number two had made his way silently behind me, and tripped me immediately.

As both of them got hold of me and tried to hold me down, I managed to get onto first my knees, then one foot and one knee. Telling myself that I hadn’t really felt something sharp against my head, I lashed out blindly to each side. As always I was lucky. My left elbow connected with great force to the one’s head, sending him sprawling behind me, and within milliseconds I was up, with my right hand on the other’s nose, my left hand around his neck and my right foot behind his ankle. I have no idea how that worked out, but it gave me the leverage to lift his foot, taking him off-balance, and smash the back of his head down against the gravel road with all the strength I had.

Then I ran. Both of them, who I would guess were nearly twenty years younger than me, regained their composure and chased. At first they were right behind me, shouting obscenities as well as “When I catch you, you’re a dead man”. Shouting while you’re trying to sprint is not smart, but lucky for me they were too stupid to save their breath. All those school races that I won so many years ago came back, and it was like I was twelve again, winning the 100m sprint. In the first 5 seconds, I gained about twenty meters on them, enough to look back and see how fast I was pulling away from them. Then seconds later I was so far away, I knew there was no way they could ever catch me. Yet I was terrified, and ran on anyway, out of breath and exhausted, having slowed to a steady jog by the time I reached Prince George Drive. I didn’t look back again and had no idea when they gave up the chase. Other than losing my breath for a few minutes, I came out of it just fine; not even a scratch on my shoes. (I did start running again regularly after that. I ran about 10km a day, something I couldn’t do now. Then again, running on meth doesn’t count.)

But it could have worked out so differently. I could have died that night in 2008. The only reason I am alive today is that I was lucky. It was blind luck and adrenaline that picked me up when they first took me down. I couldn’t see where they were behind me, couldn’t have known that I’d be able to knock both of them down and still have time to get away. And I couldn’t have known that they’d be unable to catch me.

Needless to say, I never walked back there again. But it was only because of my addiction and irrational need to get drugs that I put myself in such mortal danger to begin with. This was one of several times I was in danger, although it was undoubtedly the closest I came to death. And I have never been so afraid again. Sooner or later though, my luck would surely have run out.

And that, dear reader, is one of the reasons that I can so easily ignore my cravings now. I will never put myself through such danger again. Sadly there is a part of me that may always miss using – it’s like that drug gets into your soul and finds a permanent home there. (Not that I believe in a soul. I mean it figuratively.) So sometimes I have to remind myself that going back to using would be to open the door to the dark, evil place again. It’s easy to get there, but we don’t all make it back.

A plan for my evidence-based treatment emerges, and an unexpected and perplexing craving

Right after I published my first post here, I joined a couple of local atheist/freethinking/sceptical groups on Facebook – don’t know why I never thought of doing that before, and asked if anyone there knew of evidence-based treatment for addiction. The verdict is… CBT. I already have a contact number of a good local psychologist, and will be speaking to her later in the week.

It’s about time, as I am truly sick of NA and 12-step nonsense. It feels totally hypocritical to sit in an NA meeting when I absolutely can not believe in the woo they believe in. Actually I haven’t been to a meeting for about a month now, and can’t say I miss it.

My second topic for this post is one that took me by surprise. I haven’t craved meth for about a year, and really thought that those thoughts were behind me, but addiction is a sneaky and cunning little whore that approaches stealthily and announces itself with a tempting whisper in the ear and a nostalgic stroke of the testicles.

My rock, my motivation that snapped me out of my salad daze and perpetual methamphetamine-induced anaesthetized inebriation, was the return of my ex-girlfriend and her four-month-old daughter nineteen months ago. (20 months soon actually.) That was the day I cleaned up, and I haven’t looked back. Not until last Saturday evening; around 7:20PM.

Both of them went to Cape Town to see her family, and after I dropped them off at the station, and I and our son said goodbye to mommy and baby sister, I drove our son home (to his foster parents). About three quarter way driving him home, the addict inside me nudged a little thought to the conscious part of my brain: I could use tonight, just a little, and nobody would know…

What the fuck? Where did this thought come from? I pushed it aside, but it came back to tease and taunt me again for a second or two on Sunday. It’s scary to me because I thought I was over this. It would be so easy to convince myself that I can really have just one hit and then stop, and that nobody would know, but that’s not the way it works. The last time I did that, one hit lasted over two years, longer than this last stint of 19 months clean, but those years flew by so quickly and with dreadful consequences. If I use again, just once, I will probably not stop until I die, so for the benefit of anyone else who must suffer the same temptation, here’s how I deal with it: I follow through in my head exactly what will happen – not just that first hit – and it goes something like this:

  1. Get enough cash for 1Gram. (I already have enough for a couple of grams in my wallet.)
  2. On the way home from wherever, stop the car at a safe place to call dealer. Get dealer’s number. (This one’s easy too. Technically I have a dealer’s number – in my barred numbers list – because the arsehole called me every day for months after I cleaned up. Just unblock him.)
  3. Buy a gram. Then drive to petrol station and get a 12V light bulb. I already have a plastic pen.
  4. Go home. Since I take care of my mother, I’ll have to sneak around and quietly use a craft knife and side cutters to get the end of the bulb off, then a screwdriver to break the filament and get it out, without breaking the bulb. (Come to think of it, better to buy 3 bulbs just in case.) At least I’m still clean, so I’m not fucking paranoid that mother-dear knows exactly what I’m doing.
  5. Go to the bathroom, and smoke up a quarter gram in one shot. Heaven. This is it, baby! Why did I stop? I love this shit.
  6. Oh fuck, I’m so high. I can’t sit still. I’m talking to my mother passionately, about software development best practices, parenting, and superhero movies, all in the same breath.
  7. Go back to the bathroom. Smoke up another quarter gram. Fuck, I’m going to need more soon. It’s half finished. Hey mom, I’m going to hire a movie. See you later!
  8. Two hours later, because the poes dealer made me wait… Why’d you take so long? “Er, I couldn’t find a movie, then some arsehole parked me in. Can you believe it?“ Probably not, but it’s not like I care anymore.
  9. I trip the rest of the night on downloading porn. Not watching it, noooo. I’m on a mission to find the best porn clip ever made. (I’m tweaking.) I don’t know why I am so obsessed with this, but I am now stuck in this freaky mental state where I just can’t stop doing whatever it is that I’m doing. I’m right back in active addiction, and it’s as if all my clean time never happened. Tomorrow I will tweak on obsessively finding the exact coordinates of, and using ffmpeg to, blur out all logos on all videos I’ve downloaded. “All” is probably not the right word, because I will delete most of them, since they don’t meet my strict quality criteria. I still won’t actually watch any of them.
  10. After being up all night, I need a hit to wake me up before going to work in the morning. At work, I still do OK. In fact, my performance improves at first. (But not for long. It’s quite amazing just how badly I can fuck up a perfectly good application after being awake for seven days straight. I will refactor the code until it doesn’t even compile anymore. I won’t even be able to remember when last it did compile.)
  11. At night, I’m perfecting my own video playing application that can play porn backwards, forwards, and sideways. I still don’t actually get around to watching the shit. Too busy debugging this code, man… Hey, maybe I can come up with a clever algorithm for renaming hundreds of files simultaneously, asynchronously, in parallel, and remove all those nasty porn-site name suffixes from the files. Oh wait, I did that last relapse. (Really!) Oh shit, there’s my alarm – time to go to work. But wait! I’ve run out of meth. First call the dealer and get some stuff. When I show up two hours late for work, I tell them I had “car trouble”.
  12. Fuck, yesterday I was supposed to take my son out and I totally forgot. Call foster mother. Make lame excuse. Then wonder afterwards if I spoke too fast, sounded wrong. I think she knows I’m high. (She probably does.) The voices in my head tell me so.
  13. Come the end of the month, and I’m buying two grams at a time. This way, I become the dealer’s best customer. Then, when I run out of money, it’s OK because he’ll give me credit.
  14. Six months later, I fuck up so badly, I lose my job. Fuck well, it’s only a job. I can get another one.
  15. I go to interviews high. Still cool, because as long as I am on day one or two of my cycle, and sometimes even further on if I am lucky, I can still ace programming assessments with 100%. (Sadly, this is true. I have scored 100% or close in programming assessments while high, after being awake for 3 or 4 days. Problem is, programming real applications is different to programming assessments. My performance on the job is inconsistent and unpredictable. My moods are erratic, and I tend to be incredibly sarcastic, saying things that are inappropriate constantly. Nobody likes this guy that I become. I don’t last long in any job in this state, but somehow, I keep going, with meth-induced overconfidence and charm, making every prospective employer promises that I will never be able to keep.) Also, after I have been using every day for a few months, my tolerance to the drug improves to the point where I am no longer edgy and twitchy, unless I go without sleep for a full week, so I can sit still and work, or read a book, or watch a movie while I am high. My glasses hide the dark rings around my eyes as well as my permanently dilated pupils.
  16. The next month, I miss my car payment. It’s OK… I can pay double next month. (Realistically this is difficult. Right after I’m paid, I have to go to my dealer and pay him back a few thousand Rand for my credit this month. Sooner or later I will be threatened with car repossession.)
  17. I don’t dare visit my son. I can’t. I don’t want him to see me like this. I try to hide my addiction, but everyone knows.
  18. Does everyone really know? I’m not sure. I hear people talking about me in my new job – where I have for no good reason lied and told them I am an addict in recovery. In the mornings I hear them speculating that I have relapsed. I am on the verge of confessing this to the boss; then in the afternoons I realize that everything I heard that morning happened only in my head. It’s getting difficult to tell the difference.
  19. I start to hate myself. I miss my girlfriend. But it’s her fault. She made me use. I’m so sad, I’ll have to have another hit to cheer me up.

Have I made my point? I hope so. I can say with absolute conviction, the above is accurate. If I have even one hit of crystal meth, something very much like the above will happen. No doubt anyone who has never been an addict is thinking “But… but… That’s madness. Why would anyone ever return to that?”. The problem is, when we think of having just one more hit, we don’t naturally think any further than that first hit. (Point 5 above: Heaven. This is it, baby! Why did I stop? I love this shit.) If you do think further, do see the consequences, the decision not to use is the only logical choice to make.

And for what it’s worth, that’s how I deal with cravings. (It works. The cravings disappear in seconds.)