And out of nowhere, a craving…

Funny how this works. I can honestly say I have not craved meth in over four years, having quit it in September 2013.

But today that changed, because today I did something stupid. I shared a video on Facebook, a video showing a girl using a meth pipe, or pookie, or lolly as we called them (in Cape Town, South Africa). I felt sorry for her, because others who shared it before me were harsh in their comments about her. The title was “smoke all day” and she took several quick hits, which prompted judgement and name calling, and even someone who claimed “she’s one hit away from a heart attack”.

So I felt sorry for her, and commented as much on my own share. Also, I could see she was an inexperienced meth user, unlike the comments implied. She used a burner, and moved the burner around the lolly, which is a really odd way of taking a hit. Also she pulled too hard, and thus had to stop constantly to exhale and start again. A more experienced user, someone like me years ago, could have taken the lolly from her under the pretense of having one hit, then taken a single long, slow, steady hit while holding the lighter stationary and turning the tube of the lolly instead so as not to overheat it, and used all her meth. (“Tikked out all her tik” as we used to say in Cape Town meth-head slang.) Then passed back the empty lolly to her with a wink and a stupid grin while exhaling and saying, “Now that’s how you take a hit”.

Yeah, I did that. More than once. I was not a nice guy on meth, especially to my fellow addicts. And most probably that’s exactly what happened to her, most probably by the same asshole who took the video, right before he uploaded it to the interwebs for all the world to see.

But the point is, that mental image, of how to take a proper hit, is one hell of a trigger. I shouldn’t have visualized it, because with that visualization came the feeling of glass turning in my left thumb and fingers, the lighter and its heat against my right thumb, the feel of the end of the glass tube in my lips as it touched my front teeth and the taste of meth residue on the tube touching the tip of my tongue, the long steady pull of a hit, and the rush of euphoria that comes with it. I can feel it even as I type this. Another bad idea which brought it back again.

I’m not going to use… Obviously. But I am surprised. It wasn’t the video that triggered this craving. It wasn’t seeing someone take a hit. It was my silly comment, my imagination and memory that allowed me to momentarily experience an imaginary meth hit again, and thus triggered a craving for the real deal, my first such craving in four years.

Note to self (and anyone reading too)… Don’t be too eager to boast of your experience as the expert drug user you used to be… It’s nothing to be proud of, nothing to celebrate. And it can lead to a craving like this unexpected one.

The craving vanished as quickly as it appeared. I’m editing this half an hour after writing it, and in fact it was gone minutes after writing this post. That’s not the way it used to be. Those cravings used to hang around for hours, and even for days. But it did surprise me to feel such a craving again in the first place. I empathize with those who get such cravings regularly… I’d mostly forgotten how it felt.

Cravings. They never end completely, but it’s not a big deal.

Actually I don’t know if the statement made by my title is true. I can only speak for myself, in that it’s been two years and a couple of months since my last hit of crystal meth, and I still get a craving now and then.

But first, let’s backtrack a little and give some context… A week or so ago, I was chatting with some of my new atheist friends on Facebook. By “chatting” I mean commenting on a share, in this case a share regarding hallucinogenic mushrooms. The share was with regards to an article that conveyed some apparent benefits of mushrooms. After I commented that my drug of choice had no benefits and I wished it were otherwise, one of my friends apologized for their discussing drugs. But you shouldn’t have to.

I don’t want my friends pussy-footing around drugs just because of my past. In the same way, I would never go to a party and expect people not to drink in front of me, or expect people not to keep alcohol in the fridge just because I used to be a meth addict. The reason is simple: The idea that I can’t drink is bullshit. I do drink, but not a whole lot. I drink champagne once a year on two days: Christmas and New Year’s eve. The rest of the year, there is no alcohol in my house, because in general I don’t like the taste of anything containing alcohol (especially beer – I hate the stuff).

But the idea that I can’t drink just because I used to have a problem with crystal meth is patently absurd; it’s part of the 12-step program which is not based on any evidence, but rather on dogma going back decades that has become entrenched into recovery “culture”.

Having written that, I will not take a hit of meth, or a line of coke, or smoke crack, or any other hard drug, not even cannabis, because I know where that would lead…

But that doesn’t mean that the thought doesn’t cross my mind at times; it doesn’t mean that I never think of using. When things go badly, that thought still comes up: “I could do with a hit right now.” And I still have to do what I did two years ago, and choose not to use. Granted, it’s no longer a difficult choice, and I always dismiss the craving in milliseconds. I no longer have any dealer’s numbers, and I have put a lot of effort into ensuring that I am psychologically safe and secure. In addition, by being completely open about my recovery, I have made absolutely certain that there are multiple people who would know if I did use. My brother would know. My mother would know. My son would know. His foster mother would know and that would ruin all I have worked for in terms of getting him back. My colleagues would know. Even my neighbours would know that something is wrong. I have gone to great lengths to ensure that were I to use, I would not get away with it for as long as even two days.

But the fact is, I am not going to use. Those cravings do still come, but they don’t even last a whole second when they do. I have made peace with the fact that they do still come, and am more than competent at dealing with them. So don’t apologize for drinking in front of me, or discussing drugs in my presence. It doesn’t bother me at all. (However, it wouldn’t be wise to use drugs in my presence, because I will not hesitate to call the cops on anyone who does.)

To conclude, cravings in recovery are normal. They happen and they are not a big deal. So if you are like me and crave occasionally, don’t worry about it. Focus on what’s important in life. Focus on why you are not using drugs, and if you really need to, think about the terrible consequences that would occur if you did use. But honestly, I don’t even need to think about consequences anymore. When things go badly (for example at work) and I have those momentary cravings, I focus on what I can do to make things better. And it should be no surprise that the solution does not involve drugs.

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.)