If ever a recovering addict tells you they "still use occasionally", they probably use all the time

Yeah, I’m totally projecting on this one, because that’s what I did. I’m not proud.

I’ve always been a person who hates to lie, which led to some awkward situations a few years ago. I’d been clean for just over nine months when I relapsed near the end of 2010. And then I continued to use meth until the day I cleaned up for real in September 2013. In those three years, I felt that I had to lie, because like every addict, I believed that I needed my drug and convinced myself that I couldn’t stop but had to lie to protect my habit. I was high every day, high but mostly functional except for the year 2011 – a year that in retrospect was nothing but one long fuck-up. (It was the only time I broke my one and only rule that I had in the years of addiction, “Do not use at work”. I hated that job, hated everything about it.) And in those three years, I felt that I needed to lie, except sometimes… And that included writing my old blog while I was high. (A blog you can no longer see because it is no longer public, though I may republish an old post on the odd occasion. Trust me, it’s better this way.)

But I feel most guilty about the job I had in 2012. I went to work for a company called Piggs Peak, an online casino that has since closed down. I went to the first interview high, as always, because that’s how I approached job interviews then. Well, job interviews and everything else. But I did particularly well in interviews, even programming tests, while high on meth. False confidence and real talent is one hell of a combination.

Then things got strange. I celebrated my interview that had gone so well I figured I had the job, by using all night, more than my usual amount, and most nights I used about two grams. Then at just after 11AM the next morning, I received a phone call from the recruiter who’d organized the interview. She was concerned, and so were they. She’d found my blog, and spoken to a previous employer, and found out about my meth addiction history. It wouldn’t normally have been a big deal, except I was crazy high, like itchy and scratchy and fidgety so I can’t sit still for two seconds high, and they wanted me for a second interview by 12PM, in less than an hour. I was in no state to do an interview. Hell, normally I would not dare drive around the block or go buy a loaf of bread in that state, but I had no choice.

So I did what I had to do – I used another half gram of meth, and drove to the interview. There I did my best to sit still, and spoke at length about how I had cleaned up three months before, and how dedicated I was to working for them. Having been coached by the recruiter, my objective was to put them at ease, and somehow my objective was achieved, even though I was so high I was on that edge madness I’d grown accustomed to, a line I developed some skill at dancing over and crossing back from time to time, each dance feeling like maybe I might not return. Everything I said was bullshit, but they believed it. I got the job.

I worked there and did well enough, but in that year I danced over that line for months on end, living with voices in my head day and night, and even learning to cope by controlling them at times, which took the paranoia away briefly. But I was conflicted, being somebody who ordinarily never lied – while lying about my drug habit. So when there were people I trusted, I told the truth. So I told a smoking buddy on a smoke break that I “still used occasionally”, which was my euphemism for every fucking day. A stupid thing to do. I don’t know who she told, but it must have come out. So eventually everybody knew, but they turned a blind eye to it, because I did my job well.

There was one highly embarrassing moment there that stands out in my memory. We all sat down at the board table, and the announcement was made that the budget they had set aside for trying to target offshore gambling (there was an unfair court case against them preventing them operating in the country) had been exceeded, and the decision had been made to close down. I was on a downer, and could not hold back my tears. I bawled my fucking eyes out. To be honest, I am a little more emotional than stereotypical guys are “supposed to be” and I’m not sorry, but on meth I was an emotional basket case while coming down.

It gets to me when I think about those people, who, if ever they remember me, they think not of this me but of the addict me. In their minds I will always be that lying arsehole that I was. And there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s one person in particular I feel bad about lying to, Dia who was my immediate manager… actually the marketing manager but my development was mostly for her. She was so sweet and so naive about meth, and when I think back to that interview, deceiving her gets to me. “I need the job and I can’t stop”, I told myself. But that was a lie too, and I didn’t need to deceive anyone like that. Is it silly that these lies that get to me, when no harm was done there? I actually did fine at work and they gave me a generous severance package when the company closed down. So this isn’t about guilt at any harm done, but rather just what those people thought of me, and the actual act of deceiving them in the first place leaves me with these feelings of guilt.

Ironically this does not apply to the company owner. I bumped into him a few times after I was clean, and he made it clear he could see that I was clean. But the irony is this… back when I worked for him, he offered to give me money, a lot of money to sort out my debt and all my financial issues. I turned him down. I had to, because I knew I’d just spend the money on meth, which was unfair to him. So now I can kick myself because had I been clean, all my financial worries could have been over years ago. I could’ve started on a clean slate, but that didn’t happen.

Anyway, if ever a “recovering addict” tells you that they still use occasionally, they’re probably full of shit as I was. Meth addicts don’t use occasionally in my experience. They either use all the time, or they quit and don’t use at all. There is no in between.

Truth, lies, and double standards

When is a lie acceptable and when is it not?

This past Saturday, I took my son Josh to a child’s birthday party. There, I mentioned to a woman, who used to be his foster mother, that I was taking him to see Justice League on Sunday, but I was worried about the age restriction. He’s nine years old until next April and the age restriction is 10. (As it happened, they didn’t check so my worry was for nothing.) “Just lie”, she said.

Here’s the thing… Around the end of 2010, when I was nine months clean for the first time, just a day before we were supposed to get Josh back, my ex ran away back to Cape Town and used meth. I fell apart emotionally. We didn’t get him back, and having realized that she had used and regretted it, I convinced her over the phone to stop, stay clean for a week and then return to Johannesburg at my expense, where she would test negative for a drug test.

They realized that I’d lied, and so his foster mother, her husband at the time (my brother) and a rehab counselor, sat me down and gave me a long lecture about lies. All lies are wrong, and it was unacceptable that I lied, at all. It wasn’t even so much about what I’d lied about – it was that I’d lied at all, and they made it a big deal. Nobody other than myself saw the irony, that this story of all lies being unacceptable was itself a lie. We didn’t get Josh back, and then I did relapse too, and used meth for nearly another three years.

So hearing her encourage me to lie on Saturday felt a little strange. I’m not complaining. It means she trusts me nowadays. But still, she doesn’t seem to be aware of the double standard. In retrospect, my behaviour back then was to be expected. I lied in defense, an act of self preservation. I was on the verge of suicide, having had my girlfriend run away and after looking forward and planning to get my son back for months, being told that couldn’t happen. Suddenly I couldn’t get him back and they did not see that this was more traumatic than Megan running away herself. I was punished for it, not only for lying but for being human, for reacting the way I reacted even though it was totally normal. They contacted Child Welfare and what had been a private arrangement became formalized foster care, which took years to be removed.

There are other times when lies confuse me… Twice recently, I have been accused of lying by someone at work, in front of the whole office, when I was telling the truth. That was insulting and hurtful. I have to assume that it was about the way that I said what I said, and give the person the benefit of the doubt rather than consider alternative explanations for why he might have thought I was lying.

I haven’t lied about anything for years, but of course when I think about it, there are situations when I would be comfortable telling lies. Imagine an employer who has no respect for boundaries, who believes that just because he is entitled to intrude on you at work (which he is), that he is equally entitled to intrude on you at home in your personal time, and imagine that this employer asked you prying questions about what you do with that personal time. (It doesn’t happen where I work and this is only an example.) In that case, I would lie and feel that it was not only acceptable but also the best course of action. Telling a story then would certainly be better than saying , “It’s personal” or “none of your business”.

But did you see what I did there? I justified why it is acceptable for me to lie. This is important – we all do that. All of us, without exception. We all lie. Our own lies are acceptable. But when we catch other people lying, it means something. It might mean they are not good people. It might mean they cannot be trusted. But it doesn’t mean that about ourselves.

Lies are about survival and self preservation. An addict’s lies are just the same because they believe their drugs are necessary for their survival. The attachment of drugs to survival is a mistaken one and it shows something going wrong in the mind of the addict, but it is no more an act of deceit than the other examples of lies I have given. It doesn’t make them any less trustworthy than anyone else, when we all lie for the same reasons anyway. But this does leave me confused as to when lies are acceptable and when they are not. So I try to always tell the truth. It’s been working for a few years now, but there have also been times when the truth gets me into trouble. We don’t necessarily want the truth. We want to hear what we’d like to be true, yet we judge those whose lies we dislike, not necessarily because they aren’t true.

Getting some shit off my conscience – Part 2

Seeking the new job

Last time we left off where Piggs Peak was about to close down. I had mixed feelings about it… They had given me a chance despite knowing about my addiction, although I lied to them in the second interview, maintaining that I was clean and in recovery when I was not. However, I performed well enough on the job and was well liked there. (As opposed to some jobs in the past, where I was taken aside and given the “You’re a nice guy. We like you but…” treatment.)

The mixed feelings were not so much guilt as a feeling that they had to some small extent taken advantage of me. I was offered a salary a bit less than ideal with the promise of an increase in a year, and after a year the company was in trouble. But we were all given two months notice and generous severance packages. They paid me out as if I’d worked there for a year even though it was just under that. Before that, they’d given away lots of things. My old home PC was given to me by them, and I’m still using the office desk I got from them for free.

Two months was loads of time for me to find a new job. Everyone there was given the opportunity to have a “free” interview at a rival online casino, Osiris Trading (to whom they’d sold given the Piggs Peak brand), but I really wasn’t interested in working for another online casino. They’re all the same, all use Microgaming software and all probably have the same horrendously designed relational database. Of course all such casinos have different web sites and other software, but I really wasn’t interested in working for another casino where I might have anything further to do with the Microgaming backend. I figured that one year of stumbling around their database was enough, and if I worked for another casino I’d get roped into more of the same, so I put myself on the market and went for interviews arranged by recruiters.

In less than a week, after several frustrating interviews, I received the call from a company called GoldenRule. (A company to be avoided, by the way.) They were recruiting for a team to start at Multichoice the following month, April 2013. The “resource manager” (their fancy name for a recruiter), Charmaine,  just about told me that I had the job already, over the phone without even meeting me. Also, she offered me R10 000 more per month than what I was asking for, and I was asking for R3 000 more than I was earning.

Of course I was high, so I didn’t register that something seemed a bit fishy. Anyway, I went to meet her and got the job. The money was good, but seriously, starting as a member of an entirely new team, actually two teams of fifteen people, where nobody is interviewed properly, was not the best decision I ever made. (Then again a salary jump of R13 000 per month was welcome. Thanks for that, you stupid, unethical cunts.) At the time, I figured “R13 000 more meth per month. Hell yeah!” (Stupid, I know. But that’s what it came down to at the time.)

Those crazy people I worked with

So I showed up for work, and found my way to the office where thirteen of the other new contractors had gathered. If you’re keeping track, there was supposed to be fourteen. Lester was late, so he missed the entire introduction. But that was only the first of many things that Lester missed. With all of us gathered, it came time for us to introduce ourselves. As we all sat around a large boardroom table in a circle and introduced ourselves, I was reminded of NA meetings. I thought it would get a few laughs if I introduced myself as an addict. So when it came to me, rather than saying something about what I did or where I came from, I announced, “I’m Jerome. I’m an addict.” And it did get laughs. (Little did they know, I was as high as a satellite when saying it. But those were the kinds of things that amused me then.)

Two people really stood out that morning: Lester, notable for his absence, and Muhammad, the SCRUM-master who wouldn’t shut up. He even asked inappropriately if we’d all get free DSTV. So we were supplied with our notebooks and split into two teams. Unfortunately for me, my team included both Lester and Muhammad.

Introducing the team:

  1. Muhammad, the fake SCRUM master with verbal diarrhoea, who was also both a racist and misogynist. Not to mention an idiot.
  2. Jerome. (That’s me.) Senior developer. Lead developer who was high on meth every single day. (For the first six months there. Thereafter, I cleaned up and have remained clean ever since.)
  3. Lester. Idiot. Also an addict. High on I-don’t know-what. Possibly crack cocaine and alcohol. Tries to pass himself off as a developer occasionally. Title is Senior Developer.
  4. Edwin. Developer. Lazy as all hell, and did not understand what he was doing most of the time. Title is Senior Developer.
  5. Suzan. Tester. Also an idiot.
  6. Tsholofelo. Senior Tester, and one hell of a sense of humour. Lazy as sin.
  7. Tondi. Business Analyst. Hard-working and honest, plus she baked the best cakes. I love Tondi. (Well, I love her baking.)

Let it be noted that Lester was a class of idiot that I have never encountered again. But for the first month, he had to play second fiddle to Mohammad, whose idiocy almost had the whole team fired.

After we settled into our office, I spent a few minutes alone with the ladies. For whatever reason, maybe because I was too high to think straight, I told them all about my addiction. But I lied and said I was in recovery. I still feel bad about that. It was a pointless, unnecessary lie. (Even if it did come true in a few months.) But they believed me and respected me for it, and it started the friendship. The lie turned out to be a good move, even though it was bullshit.

We did no work for weeks. And Muhammad, he drove us all mad! He’d give these ridiculous lectures about SCRUM, the same lecture every day, 4 hours of listening to the lunatic drone on. He also had run-ins with the ladies, accusing them of stealing from him, and he told us a bunch of nonsense such as, we could not speak to anyone in the business about requirements; it should all come via him. Then he fucked it all up because he couldn’t understand the requirements and everything he told us was wrong. Also, that’s not how things work there. Not at all. The SCRUM master is just supposed to run the morning stand-up meetings, raise impediments with the other teams and management, and do whatever the fuck SCRUM masters are supposed to do – not what he was doing.

Anyway, he was fired after about a month, at which point we started paying attention to Lester. Like, why does this guy show up for work at 11AM every day, three hours late?

The Lester Chapter

Lester was a special case… He showed up frequently smelling of alcohol in the first month. Then after that, he didn’t stink anymore, but he’d arrive for work dead tired, go for a three hour lunch, and return full of energy. Let’s put this into perspective: I was high. Lester was on a whole other level. He’d arrive five minutes from the end of a meeting, then respond with aggression if anyone tried to talk to him about work. Instead he’d browse dating sites and other trash, occasionally laughing out loud and telling me something incoherent about whatever nonsense he was reading. The man was a menace, and it didn’t help that I was also high and paranoid, and this imbecile was drawing attention to all of us.

I was glad in a way when Lester was late. It meant that I could “steal” most of the development tasks in our morning meetings, rather than risk him doing any of them. The one time he managed to get hold of a project deliverable, I had to reject all his code (which was downloaded and didn’t work at all) and rewrite it myself from scratch. He then argued with me, saying that all developers download code. (They do not!) This was for a simple job that had to back up some files on the file system, a trivial programming task that took me five minutes, for which he had taken three weeks. Somehow the other developer, Edwin, did less than 10% of the work, but I was OK with that too, because he wasn’t terribly competent either. Edwin was a smoothy who spent much of his time on the prowl looking for girls to cheat on his pregnant girlfriend with.

We’d have meetings with teams that had to explain their implementation of an API, which we then needed to use, and Lester would interrupt them every 20 seconds with questions that betrayed a distinct lack of understanding of even the most basic tenets of software development. (Calling them stupid questions was a major understatement.) Then he’d argue with them, get up out of his chair and aggressively take over the meeting – standing in the front of the room while writing on the whiteboard and babbling gibberish. Did I mention that Lester was a menace?

At one stage Lester didn’t have a car. (Actually he never had one, but after the first couple of months he moved closer to work, within walking distance.) So for a while I used to give him a lift. In trying to get him to admit what his drug, or more likely drugs of choice were, I told him all about my fondness for methamphetamine. But he didn’t open up to me, and I regretted informing him of something that he could use against me. One day, as I drove him to the taxi-rank, he explained his great idea to me. We, as in him and I who wrote line of business software in C#, could build intelligent androids, which could be prostituted out… You know, like the ones in the movie AI? And he was serious. What do you even say to that? What?!? I didn’t say anything… I just stared at him, dumbfounded, and thought to myself, “You fucking idiot! You’ve got to go.” Did I mention that Lester was a menace?

Lester also had some peculiar beliefs. The one that really stood out was his belief that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS… The Peter Duesberg madness. Though Lester didn’t actually know the details of the conspiracy he believed in or the name of Peter Duesberg, that didn’t stop him from talking about it. He’d get excited and talk about the “world’s most famous biologist” and his “discovery” that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. Actually this was the first part of my plan to get Lester fired… just bring up the subject. It was too easy to trigger him into giving his speech about it, so I did it several times right before going to lunch. I’d return in an hour and sure enough, he was still going, telling the whole team that HIV isn’t real. And they’d be arguing with him, which just made him even more excited about his pet subject. He was oblivious to the insensitivity of his tirades, which turned out to be highly upsetting to one of the ladies, who presumably had lost someone she cared for to HIV.

Step two of my plan to get rid of Lester was to approach Elmar, one of the Multichoice employees who was our “build-master” and in middle-management. I asked him how best to gather evidence and prove that a member of the team, namely Lester, wasn’t doing any work. I also mentioned that I believed Lester was using drugs at work. Of course Elmar’s answer wasn’t important; all I wanted to achieve was to bring Lester to the attention of management.

I must admit, in retrospect, that my behaviour was not normal for me, simply because I was high on crystal meth every day. Getting rid of Lester, rather than getting myself the hell away from that extremely dysfunctional team (and maybe get some help for my own addiction) became a game. It was fun, and it kept me amused.

Step three was to confront Lester, to throw every stupid thing he said back in his face, which meant verbally attacking him every time he opened his mouth. He had the verbal skills of a retarded child that had been dropped on its head repeatedly and was more aggressive than anybody I’d ever met, so anything he retaliated with would just result in him drawing more attention to himself. The whole team hated him, Multichoice management were aware of him, and finally the incompetent GoldenRule key account manager became aware of him, and there really was no choice but to get rid of him.

I went into a meeting with the key account manager and Multichoice 2nd in charge for that department, and opened up with “You know, a few years ago, I also used to show up at work at 11AM every day, but I was high!” A report was done on the whole team’s TFS history, all our code check ins, and it became quite clear that I’d done all the development work apart from a tiny bit done by Edwin. All Lester achieved in his three months there was some code churn… Modify a project file one day, revert the changes the next day, and so on.

And so dear Lester departed.

In retrospect, I don’t regret getting that idiot fired. He had it coming. But the way I did it was wrong. Making it into a game where I manipulated everybody for my own entertainment was pretty fucked up, but I was high…

This post is getting too long, and we’re only up to around June 2013. I’ll have to end it there. In the next part, I’ll write about life after Lester, an anecdote or two about some fun and some not such fun times with that team, and what it was like when I finally cleaned up. I hope you’re enjoying reading this as much as I’m enjoying writing it.

Getting some shit off my conscience – Part 1

I don’t expect anybody to find this interesting (because it isn’t) but it has been on my mind for a few years now. I could never get it out because on my old blog, I lied about my sobriety. For some time I convinced myself that I was “in recovery” when I really wasn’t.

I’m not going back to the beginning, but instead I’ll start my story around the beginning of 2012. March or April – I don’t remember when exactly. I was in active addiction, and had been for about a year, so I was using a couple of grams of meth every day, and looking for a new job.

Actually I’ll go back to just before that… I’d worked for a small contracting company, as a c# developer in ABSA Towers in Johannesburg. At that time, my ex was less stable than I was. She’d be between myself and some other guy. She’d come back on a Thursday, and we had a great time and used together. Then before I went to work on the Friday morning, she took my SIM card out of my phone without my knowledge, and “borrowed” my bank card. While I was at work I thus did not receive the SMS notification to say that R2000 had been drawn out of my account. She politely left my bank card on the table at home though, which I then found when I returned home. While I was at work, she’d packed her things and left, with my money… So I mentioned this to someone at work on the Monday, without realizing that the contracting house had a strange policy of not keeping anyone around who had any debt issues. So my job ended. Just like that.

And thus I found myself on the job market. Not handling the situation at all well, I used meth every day to feel better and stayed awake up to seven days at a time until I crashed. And there I was at an interview at a company called Piggs Peak, as high as fuck. Somehow the people doing the interview really liked me. The interview went about as well as interviews can go, and I went home happy. Until the next day.

That night, I celebrated my excellent interview. (My state of mind then was: Miserable normally, but happy when high, so I was high most of the time. It seemed like the logical thing to do.) Then, after another night without sleep, I got the call at about 11AM the next morning. The recruiter started the conversation with “Is there anything you haven’t told me?”. I played dumb but that didn’t work. Apparently the people who interviewed me liked me so much, they called every company where I worked before, and Googled my name, and found out all about my history with drugs.

They were “concerned”. So concerned, they wanted another interview with me immediately. Immediately, as in 12:00, in one hour. So what could I do? I did what was in my mind, the logical thing to do: Have another hit of meth. And another. And another. And another. Then fuck it – finish everything I have. Then get in my car and drive there… ridiculously high.

So I sat down with three people interviewing me, and I lied through my teeth. As high as I was, I smiled politely and sold myself like I never had before. And told them that I was clean and had been for about three months.

And I got the job. I’ve felt guilty ever since, because I was brought up not to lie. In fact, until I was a little over thirty years old, I could not lie. That’s one thing addiction taught me; to lie like a pro. I can still do it, but I don’t because I value honesty. That’s part of what this blog is about: Honesty and truth. (As well as not writing personal details about people like my brother and violating his privacy. But the point is, I’d been thinking of rebooting the blog for a long time anyway.)

Anyway, I performed well enough at that job, and was well liked by some people. Not all, but some. In fact, the owner of the company at one stage offered to personally bail me out of all my debt. I didn’t take his offer, and never told him why. The reason of course was that I knew I would spend his money on drugs, and I was not willing to do that. (I had to draw the line somewhere.)

Eventually that company closed down, because of other issues that are irrelevant here. But I’ve felt bad about that lie for three years now. Next time I’ll pick up the story about a year later, and part two will describe the crazy times of my last nine months in active addiction. (The last day I used was 4th September 2013.)