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.

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Funny how I tend to remember the good times and forget the bad times of addiction?

While taking a bath, I had an odd recollection of my good old days… This was around 2007. I remembered our lonely aged neighbour, exasperated at about 3AM, exclaiming in his impeccable British accent, “WOT’s going on?”

The sex was good in those days; so good it turned bad. We’d have a few hits of meth, and then begin. I’d delay my ejaculation but get a kick out of her frequent orgasms, and keep going until we were both exhausted, occasionally wiping off with a towel because she’d made it too wet to continue. Then we’d go to the bathroom, wash ourselves off, have a few more hits of meth, and go back to bed intending to sleep. But as soon as our bodies brushed against one another, the whole process would start again. Rinse and repeat. Literally. We only stopped when it became painful, and in my case that meant my body would eventually try to ejaculate even though by then there was nothing left, and it hurt. Sometimes we’d even continue after that. We’d go until we blistered and bled.

In retrospect, that wasn’t normal. Poor old Robin next door just wanted to get some sleep. The day after that exasperated plea, while I was at work he approached her to find out if anything was wrong, and of course it was a big joke to her. He’s dead now. Sorry Robin. At least you’re resting now.

When we weren’t having our insane sex marathons, we’d be tweaking and tripping on other things. I remember making flapjack pancakes until about the same time, around 3 to 4AM. Standing there in mid-winter in the kitchen, in front of the window wearing nothing but my underpants because I was overheating despite the freezing weather, mixing and frying hundreds of pancakes in the electric frying pan we had. I’d eat most of them as they were ready, some with maple syrup, some with apricot jam, and some with only butter. Eventually when I finished, there’d only be about 20 pancakes for me to share with her, but I’d eaten about 200 by then. Those were good times.

And yet, the good times didn’t last. Not only did they not last, but I had years of bad times after the good times, and in the end the bad times were more significant and lasted way longer than the good times.

The good times were from 2006 to 2008. 2009 was the worst year of my life and I almost died. I was clean for most of 2010. Then 2011 to 2013 were meaningless, wasted years. I didn’t have her any more, and neither of us had our son. I used alone, with the threat of losing him forever looming larger every day. The drugs did nothing for me any more. I’d be high and happy for about two minutes, then be miserable again. More dugs led to a quicker come-down and more severe depression. By September 2013, I had to admit that the drugs weren’t doing anything for me. I’d known for some time but procrastinated about stopping and reached the point where there was no point in using any longer. In fact, meth was no longer my thing, and quitting was thus easy.

And here I am remembering the good times… Why?

Don’t worry about me. I don’t yearn for those good times and remembering them isn’t placing me in any danger of relapse. When I first cleaned up, maybe it did. And I guess that’s really my point today: Don’t forget how bad it got, and how bad it will get if you ever go back to using meth. Not a point for me, but for anyone reading this who might be struggling… Never forget how bad it was. Never go back.

Some nasty lesser-known side-effects of meth

Even after two years clean, I still have days when I miss using meth. Days is a bit of an overstatement. Perhaps I should say that there are days when I still have moments where I think of the good times but not the bad times. This happens especially when I write anything about the old days on a forum, or talk about it. So I have to remind myself just how bad it was. One way I do that is to imagine what will happen if I use again. (I haven’t done anything about the CBT therapy mentioned in that post – no longer think it’s necessary. But the numbered list where I break down what will happen if I use, is accurate.) Another way of dealing with my bias towards thinking of the good memories while ignoring the bad ones is to force myself to think of the bad memories. Today, I want to focus on a few nasty but lesser known side-effects of meth.

Forgetting random words

This is the worst one of them, but ironically when using, meth addicts get used to it and don’t take it seriously. It’s something that should be taken seriously because it is a clear sign that the drugs mess with your brain.

On meth, one of the first side-effects you notice, and then soon ignore, is your tendency to forget random words. Random words from your long term memory seem to fly away, out of your mind. (Pun intended, of course.)

It’s only temporary, but is really strange and I don’t know exactly how it works. Any words could be forgotten, and normally you don’t realize they are missing until you’re speaking, when in mid sentence, the word you want to say is just not there. It’s like your brain has a dictionary and needs to perform a lookup. You know what you want to say and you know the meaning of the word, but the brain’s internal lookup returns nothing. (Most probably that is exactly what happens, but I’m only guessing. The memory is there, but somehow the drug temporarily breaks the brain’s ability to lookup, to recall that memory.) Then depending on what type of word it is, or how high you are, you might substitute a synonym and have nobody notice, or maybe you’ll laugh like a gleeful goon. The latter is more common, of course.

When I was staying with my girlfriend for about a month, one fine Thursday morning I woke up to go to work, and realized, to my complete surprise, that I didn’t remember her name. (Yet nine years later I do remember it was a Thursday. As stated, I don’t know how this works.) Just like that – it was gone. Her name was Megan, and I knew that there was a girl at work with a similar name, Meggan, but try as I might, all I could remember was that there was a girl at work with a name just like hers, differing only in spelling. I could not remember what the name was. I tried as hard as I could to remember, but failed. I even told her, and asked her not to tell me, and of course it freaked her out. (Imagine how fucking retarded that sounded after waking up next to her for over a month: “I can’t remember your name! Wait, don’t tell me; don’t tell me…”) But I did not remember at all. I went to work, opened Outlook and opened up my contacts, and only reading the name of the girl at work brought my memory back.

If that isn’t a sign that meth fucks with your brain, then I don’t know what is.

You temporarily forget other things from long-term memory

This has to be related to the forgetting of random words, because both of these are issues with long-term memory. I’ve heard others mention short-term memory loss, and it was a big thing for many of the others where I attended rehab originally in 2010, but I had no such effects, so I’m guessing that not everybody does. But random long-term memory loss, while high on meth, is common.

Sometimes I’d be driving to work, and realize that on that day, I did not remember a particular stretch of road. Not the whole route, just some random part of it. Even though I drove there every day, it would seem like I’d never been there before. This only happened when I was very high, and would always be accompanied by a sense of amazement. (Like, wow, this life is an adventure!)

I felt kind of like a fish with a ten second memory, swimming round my tank that seemed new every day… Ooh, this is a nice rock…. Swims around it… Ooh, this is a nice rock! OK, the fish memory thing is a fallacy, but it suits this story well.

Again, those memories would return later, but this is something I should have taken seriously. (Both this and the section above refer to things that happened to me around 2005 and 2006, by the way, in the first year that I used.)

Too busy tweaking to pee

Around 2008, when I worked for a company called Global Vision as a developer, I had some trouble waking up in the morning… So I often worked late to make up for it. At least, that’s what I told people at the time. In reality, I was tweaking on my work, unable to stop until a couple of hours after everybody else had gone home.

I’d sit at my desk, thinking I just want to finish this… then find something else that seemed just as urgent, then something else, for the whole day. In a large code base, there are always things that can be improved, refactored and refined. Always. Any developer will tell you that. But normally, and when the developer isn’t out of his mind on crystal meth, only the high priority bugs and features are attended to. There is grave risk in going ahead with huge, sweeping code changes, especially at lower levels of complex API’s or frameworks, where changes to the lower levels bubble up through layers of abstraction or some code is reused in unexpected ways that aren’t obvious but have far reaching unintended and negative side-effects. (A cynical programmer will tell you that adding new features also always introduces new bugs, as does refactoring of any non-trivial code.) There’s considerable risk when any developer does this, never mind someone high on meth. But I couldn’t stop myself. (I was fortunate there to have much of my code confined to projects for which I alone was responsible, and through blind luck my tweaking code changes worked.)

Eventually I’d snap out of it around 7 or 8PM, with Megan calling me frantically and asking why I wasn’t home yet (because she was either paranoid and worried about me, or she wanted more meth as there was none left – “we” always finished it in the morning; otherwise she’d use it all while I was at work), and realize that in my tweaking preoccupation with the code, I’d been too busy even to get up and go to the toilet. Then just before going home, exhausted, embarrassed and desperate for my next hit, I’d stand at the urinal, stand there taking an agonising five minute piss.

Muscles cramping

I didn’t know until a few days ago, but muscle cramping is a symptom of amphetamine poisoning. I’d often get irritable bowel syndrome because the amount of meth in my system caused several muscles, especially abdominal muscles, to cramp up. It was so painful sometimes, I could barely walk.

I knew other addicts with similar problems, except they would go to their doctors and be treated for symptoms that were actually drug-induced. (Not everybody in medicine or even psychology is able to recognize the effects of addiction. People are also often incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, when in reality their mood swings are normal reactions to their drugs. Then they become attached to their bipolar diagnoses, even in recovery.) I realized that my symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, though indistinguishable from symptoms of the “real” syndrome, were caused by meth, but as stated I only read that those are symptoms of amphetamine poisoning a few days ago.

Numb feeling skin, formication and a scratch reflex from Hell

This past weekend, I went to the barber. After he cut my hair, he also used the clippers to trim my eyebrows, which led to a numb sensation in my skin around my eyes. This sensation reminded me of the numb feeling I used to get on meth, and the reminder is my reason for writing this post.

It’s hard to explain, but on meth my face would often feel numb. Numb and overly sensitive at the same time. Also I’d get a numb feeling in my fingertips. The combination would lead to a strange tingly sensation that I can not explain, when touching my face. Also, I’d get pimples and dry skin. So I’d tweak on touching my face, as well as picking at the pimples.

Actually the effects on my fingertips did not end there. Numbness would progress to pain. My fingertips were sometimes bruised and sore for days at a time, making it difficult to fasten buttons, pull up my fly, or anything requiring delicate control with the fingers.

Another effect that was particularly disturbing was formication (not to be confused with fornication), defined as the false sensation of flesh-crawling bugs. It’s also known as meth bugs or coke bugs. Typically it feels as if insects, like ants, are crawling over your skin. Megan used to insist that there were fleas or ants in the bed, and would not understand, no matter how much I explained it to her, that the sensation was a side-effect of meth. (Our cats and dog had no fleas. I always made sure of this.) This can cause excessive scratching by addicts, with unpleasant results like skin rashes and infection. The infection causes more itching, which triggers the scratch reflex again, but the scratch reflex is possessed by the meth demon in addicts as they end up tweaking on scratching. Even applying skin creams doesn’t work when you’re on meth, because that tingly sensation you get when touching your skin causes even more tweaking on excessive application of skin cream, so you block the pores and do more damage while spreading the infection.


That’s all I can think of for now. Note that the above are not consequences of using meth. They are side-effects that are common and become a normal part of everyday life, and anybody using meth has to live with them. But they’re the type of side-effects that are quickly forgotten, even though they shouldn’t be.

It may be worth noting that some people experiencing the side-effects mentioned notice the effects, but do not realize that they are caused by drug-use. They blame other things, or as mentioned above, think that they have irritable bowel syndrome or that their mood swings when their hedonic systems go up and down are symptoms of bipolar disorder. This is, I believe, because of two things: They use drugs every day and don’t realize it’s a problem, so the side-effects seem “normal” to them; they are in denial that they are addicts, so they don’t face the reality of the effects of their addiction. As stated many times, I believe that addiction is a choice, not a disease. But nobody chooses to be an addict. They choose to use drugs, and then deny and try not to think about their addiction.

When I used to attend meetings and interact with other recovering addicts, which I don’t do anymore, I noticed that nobody ever mentioned these side-effects. I’ve also noticed that other recovering addicts often don’t seem to remember the details of all that happened to them in their time using drugs. Sometimes my detailed memory of all those things seems like a curse, that I remember the unpleasant details so many seem to forget, and relive them as if they happened only minutes ago. But it’s a blessing in disguise. Though I have to remind myself, as long as I do so, I can never forget that the negative effects and consequences of using meth were considerably more significant than the positive ones, and it helps me to stay clean. I hope that anyone reading this who experienced the same can use this post as a gentle nudge to their memory of what everyday life on meth was, and that it can help deter them from ever wanting to go back.

Also, nobody tells you about these effects before you try using meth. I wonder if knowing about it beforehand would make any difference?