The endless search

I just saw this on social media and it made me literally laugh out loud, but not at the joke, at a memory of something that wasn’t funny at all back then.

Searching

For about the first five years after I quit meth, I refused to search for anything, ever, for more than a minute or so. “If I don’t find it right away, I give up,” I’d say. “It’s gone.” It used to drive my ex nuts but I didn’t care. These days I have more patience and will search for maybe two minutes…

In fact, for a while I had two ID documents, because I thought I’d lost it and would rather go to the department of Home Affairs and sit in a queue for three hours and order a new one than search through my apartment. Of course I did eventually find the original by accident. (I only have one now because one of them was in my car when it was stolen last year.)

For once, I’m not going to explain why… This post is for the other former meth heads. If you too were addicted to meth, you know why I loathe searching for anything.

 

Memories of meth

Addiction is a cruel beast that sneaks up on you without you knowing it’s there. You start using drugs for whatever reason… perhaps to cope with trauma of some sort… and they leave you feeling so good, you forget why you started. They take the pain away and are effective for a while, and then they create more trauma than they ever solved to begin with. But you forget, developing a kind of selective memory where you only remember the good times, then the beast has a way of returning if you aren’t prepared.

I’m just weeks away from six years clean, so this seems like as good a time as any to remember some of the unpleasant things that meth did for me. For this post, we travel back in time to 2005, the year I started using meth.

Itchy scratchy

Imagine going to bed, but just as you’re about to drift away to slumber-land, an irritating itch startles you, screaming out at you from your left ankle. You lurch down to scratch it, bringing instant relief, but as you do so, another itch tears at your right shoulder. Then your lower back, then your left thigh, right thigh, upper back, neck, left arm, right arm, ass, your side… It doesn’t end. You roll around as you flail from one itch to the next in a scratch reflex that seems never-ending. Then imagine feeling an itch that runs down your thigh, feeling as if you can literally feel the blood flowing through your veins somehow causing an itch on the outside.

I immediately looked that one up, and it’s called formication, defined as “the false sensation of flesh-crawling bugs”. Not to be confused with fornication, which is a tad more fun.

Now imagine all that itching and scratching at work; imagine snapping out of your wild scratching spree to realize that everyone has stopped what they’re doing to stare at you, the lunatic flapping and flopping around like a fish in a bucket.

Being delayed, and friends that don’t know when to leave

I had this friend named Chris, whom I knew from the local Spur restaurant, where he was first a waiter, then a manager, and then fired. He would come to visit me and then not leave.

Once, he’d been there for two days, sleeping on my couch if he slept at all, when he suggested going to visit some people he knew. I took him there only because it was an opportunity to lose him somewhere.

So off we went… They lived in a room, possibly the former slave quarters but my memory is hazy, at Tokai Manor House, a historical monument. I don’t remember the deal exactly – I think the girl’s father maintained or managed the place or something, and she lived there with her boyfriend.

They were decent people though I can’t remember their names… “I just want to sit and tik”, she said, echoing my thoughts. I immediately liked her. He was a cop, on suspension from the flying squad because he was caught on meth. In another world, maybe he would have been treated differently… Here was a guy who was a victim of trauma. As a first respondent, he’d seen every kind of grizzly scene there was… shooting victims, accident scenes, domestic violence… you name it – any way that somebody could have died horribly and he’d seen it, working a job where he was always too late to help people but also always just in time to see their fresh corpses. So he used meth as a coping mechanism; where presumably the high of the drug took away the trauma for a while, but got him suspended. In another world, one where using drugs was treated not as a crime but as a problematic behaviour due to trauma indicative of some underlying problem that needed treatment, maybe he’d have been given the help he needed. But this is not such a world.

Anyway, the guy saw my good quality Pyrex glass meth lolly, and noticed that I was carrying it around in my pocket, so he took it upon himself to help me. He took out a cloth and some needle and thread, and started stitching. At first he was still responsive, but after a few hits, he went off on a tangent. Stitching stitching stitching… the whole night long. He tweaked on it, but was also delayed. It was the first time I witnessed such a thing, but would not be the last. On meth, we can get into that state where we focus exclusively on one thing, and we can also get into a state where unlike the “speed” misnomer implies, we are extremely slow and delayed. He lucked out and got to be tweaking and delayed simultaneously.

In the morning, the guy and his friend, and my annoying friend Chris, went to go play paintball. That guy used to run the local paintball in Tokai forest. Left with the girl, I took one or two more hits, and left, happy to ditch Chris with them. He was their problem now.


In retrospect, meth really does mess up your judgement. These people had never met me before, didn’t know me from a bar of soap, and the guy left me alone with his girlfriend. It was always my intention to be left behind so that I could ditch Chris, but really, who leaves a strange man alone with his girlfriend in an isolated place?

On drugs, we adjust and it becomes our new “normal”

There’s probably a psychological term for what I’m thinking of, but I wouldn’t know what it is. Anyway, recently I was reading an interview with the former bassist from New Order – I forget his name and it isn’t important anyway. He had published a book, and during the interview, he mentioned how much he loved using all the drugs he’d used, and went so far as to compare them to each other. When you reach that point, when you find it perfectly reasonable to tell anybody why you love using crack and how it’s better than other drugs, it’s fair to say that you have lost touch with reality.

But I saw the same thing in other people, and even in myself years ago. I went from someone who never used hard drugs at all, and didn’t even know where to find them until my mid thirties, to someone who used methamphetamine every day. And somewhere along the way, it became normal. That’s how it works psychologically. When you cross a line and do something new, even if that thing is abhorrent to you, with repeated behaviour you get used to it, and eventually it is normal to you. Almost everybody I knew also used meth, and lived with addiction as an everyday thing.

One day I realized what had happened, and tried to see how it had happened. I could not. However, it turned out that among my “friends”, this insight was unusual. Most of the people I knew who were also addicts, were not self aware. Meth made them paranoid and self conscious, but it did not wake them up to the fact that what they were doing and the way they were living was not normal. And in many cases, many people… I daresay most meth addicts, will never realize what has happened to them. Most addicts, in my opinion, will never get to the point of admitting they have a problem. And that’s sad.

I remember a woman named Tracy, from when I lived in Muizenberg. One day we were talking, and this was right after my girlfriend left the house, and she told me about her child. Tracy was a little younger than me (I think), in her mid thirties at the time. She mentioned her child, a child that was removed about 16 years before, who she had never seen again. And she was OK with it, preferring her life using meth and seeming not to care about what she had lost. She told me this right before she asked me “Do you want to cum?”. At least she didn’t get weird when I turned her down. Tracey is one of those people who will never stop using meth, because for her it is normal.

Likewise, people on meth get used to hearing voices. I remember when it first happened to me – the first time I heard a voice clearly. I’d gone through a long period of hearing muffled sounds that seemed vaguely like voices that I’d hear during loud ambient noise, like wind or rain. But one day, it progressed to something more. I’d said something stupid, something that embarrassed me, to my girlfriend, right before she walked out the house (with another guy and my money to get more drugs)… And the moment I was alone, which must have been ten seconds after I said (whatever it was – I have long since forgotten), I heard my words and my own voice echo back at me. It was frightening. I sat there in shock, “listening” to my own voice mocking me for the next hour.

After that it progressed… and I heard lots of different voices for a few years until I stopped using meth. But as it was when I first heard them, I always knew they were in my head. It never became normal for me, and I never asked Google and random blogs why or if meth made me hear voices, as so many sad people do. Those are the wrong questions, and I saw it as being quite simply this: I heard voices because I used meth.

But not everybody knows they’re using voices. Remember this one I wrote about a while back… He thinks he hears EVP, and uploads recordings he made in his cupboard onto SoundCloud. That guy will never recover. He is too far gone and probably lost touch with reality a long time ago.

Why am I writing this? I’m not too sure as it just came to me when I had a headache and couldn’t fall asleep last night… But it seems to me that as positive as I normally am about recovery and how easy it’s been for me, the dismal reality is that most meth addicts will never even attempt to clean up. Most of them. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you are using meth, you need to realize what you are doing to yourself, and know how important it is to stop before it is too late and you become one of those people who are lost to meth addiction.


Edit… I just read the comments to this blog, and there was one this past weekend by a reader named Adam, thanking me for my insight. It’s great to get feedback like this, and it makes the process of writing about it worthwhile. With no feedback, all I have is the page views to tell me if anyone actually likes what I write, so I really do appreciate your feedback.

It’s worth pointing out that people like Adam are not the ones I’m referring to who are lost. If you’re struggling, you’re more like I used to be. You’re self aware. You know you have a problem. You might still end up one of the casualties who are lost forever to the drug, but you do have a chance, and I hope you’ll end up clean and happy just like me. The people I’m thinking of are those unfortunate majority who never struggle and never stop, but just use until they die.

Funny how on meth, we see when other people are acting strangely, but not ourselves

This is something I realized years ago, but haven’t written about for a while. Recently reader “juststartedmethlastweek” commented the following:

Ok here goes, we have been up for like 7-8 days now and still going strong. But all a sudden he starts to cry and just begging to his to please help him. He was not only hearing things but also seeing things! I have never seen my husband like this before. He is real jumpy,thinks everyone is talking about him. Can someone please tell me what is really going on. How can I get him to calm down cause even my voice trips him out. I try to do things slow for him so he ain’t trippin more. Any advise for me would be amazing!

I’m glad it was an anonymous comment, so I don’t have to feel bad about quoting it. Anyway, I didn’t reply because I figured she wouldn’t listen to the only piece of advice I can give. (Stop using meth.)

It is kind of amusing to think about what happens when we use meth. It’s all fun and games for the first day or two, but then things start to go awry…

  • Meth only leaves you alert and wide awake on day one. After that, you start to get delayed. You won’t notice, because you’re too delayed to notice, and assuming you’re not using alone, your partner is also delayed. Your reactions are delayed; your words are delayed, and you begin to change from the stage where you couldn’t stop switching focus and talking incessantly, to the way long term meth users behave, which involves focusing exclusively on one thing, like a zombie.
  • After two or three days, you become overly anxious and edgy. You start overreacting to everything. A small disagreement leads to a shouting match.
  • You start to become paranoid. You think everybody is watching you. They may well be, because  you’re not acting normally at all. You might notice your partner is spending too much time in a “zone” where they stop interacting with you and anybody else. They might stare into space for a little too long, quite unaware of the strained expressions on their face.
    Meanwhile, your partner might notice the same about you. We don’t see this in ourselves.
  • After seven or eight days, if you make it that long, all of the above are happening. You and your partner are also confused most of the time at this point, and looking at each other’s strange behaviour, thinking it is drawing attention to yourself.
  • You may or may not experience hallucinations. It starts with pareidolia, where you see or hear patterns where there are none, recognizing voices and images in random audial and visual noise. (And if you use for a few years, you’ll eventually hear voices all the time, without the need for any background noise to stimulate the hallucination.) You think your hallucinations are real (because you see or hear them, with your normal senses, or so you think) but may well realize that your partner is responding to shit that isn’t real… because you don’t see what he or she sees.

Can you see why I didn’t respond to her comment? I saw it too many times in my years using meth… Addicts laughing at other addicts, quite unaware that they look just as pathetic as the others. I don’t know why, but I was a little different to my junkie peers, and became quite aware of what was happening to me early on. (Not that it stopped me for several years though. And I was unaware of this for the first year or two.) I remember once, when I was using in a large group, one of the guys was tripping on something stupid for three or four hours, totally out of it, delayed and in his own little world, and everybody laughed at him – everybody except me. When they laughed, I made this ironic little joke, “Don’t we all get a little delayed?” Only one other person caught the joke. One. So out of seven people using that night, only two were aware of what the drug was doing to themselves.

So when you use meth with your significant other, and notice that they are behaving strangely, don’t ask for advice to help them. You have exactly the same problem, but you can’t see it. And the only answer to fix that behaviour is to stop using meth.

Of course this does change a little when you develop tolerance to the drug. This post is more about inexperienced users who don’t realize what the drug is doing to them. With tolerance comes greater self awareness, I think… Though not always – sadly I knew of someone who used for years and had no idea what was happening to him. With tolerance there also come a whole host of other problems… such as immediately using enough that you disengage from the world and tweak like a zombie, while paradoxically you have more control and the effects are not as easy to detect by a casual observer. Also, you reach the point where the high isn’t good any more – you long for those days where the high used to be good, but you carry on using anyway, trying to get that good high that will never be possible again.

I didn’t know true horror until I heard voices in my head.

I’ve written about meth voices before. Unfortunately this blog’s most popular post is on that subject. But I don’t think I managed to express just how scary those voices can be.

I’ve always been into horror, and yesterday I saw this cheesy meme:

22730322_1769768633033955_6927621922142150350_n

That’s cheesy as all fuck. But imagine hearing voices like that for real…

Although I only started hearing voices all the time after using meth for a couple of years, there was one exception to this – one occasion when I heard a voice early on and didn’t know what it was.

It was 2005. I’d been using for less than a year. Not even much… typically I’d have a quarter gram last two days then and I’d limit myself to using between 7 and 8PM so that I could sleep.

So I laid down to sleep, at around 11PM. And just before I was able to drift off, a woman’s voice spoke directly into my ear, “Hello”. That was it. Just hello. This was before I became a skeptic and fully accepted that I was an atheist. I’d always believed in the supernatural, and “seen” ghosts as a child. (I’m not getting into that now. Just accept that it was sleep paralysis but I genuinely believed in those things.) It was bizarre in that the voice was clear. Crystal clear. (Pardon the stupid pun, but I didn’t know this was a side effect of the drug.) So I leaped out of bed and walked around the apartment, trying to get that feeling, trying to sense the “presence”.

But that time wasn’t so bad. It didn’t happen again for a long time. A year later, I met my girlfriend and we were happy for a while, and I forgot all about hearing voices.

Fast forward to 2012. She’d left me, and then come back, then left me, then come back again… It was a complicated mess and I’d lost count. At one stage she came back, and sat in the passenger seat of my car, waiting there while I went to job interviews.

Then I got the job, but by the time I started, she was gone again. I started this new job, but I was a basket case. My girlfriend, who I thought was the love of my life, had left me suddenly again. And here I was, in a new job where I could remember her sitting just outside in my car. Meanwhile she’d run off to Pakistan this time, with the other guy.

It wasn’t a good job. Everybody there was Afrikaans, except for me. They had this white Afrikaner culture thing going on, and made me feel like I didn’t belong there at any given opportunity. Plus the developer who was leaving, and whose place I was taking… disliked me. He kept asking trick questions about development just to try catching me out, while I refused to answer them even when I knew the answers, because meth didn’t leave me in the friendliest of moods.

But the voices were the worst. I’d be sitting in a room with three other people, but the meth left me in the same mood I’d be while sitting alone in the dark, in the middle of the night. So with people all around me, I’d hear her voice, whispering in my ear, “Jeroooome!” I fucking jumped, so startled was I. And it kept happening. I could not keep it together. I’d be this shaky mess all the time, trying to be functional, trying to look normal in front of the others at work; trying but not succeeding.

Then if I walked outside, to or from the car, I’d hear her calling me. Whispering, shouting, pleading, crying, begging me for help, and telling me she loved me.

Soon it wasn’t just her voice. I’d hear several voices, sometimes dozens. I heard voices all the time and if you can imagine that meme at the top of this post, imagine it in the context of a horror movie when it is scary and not cheesy, then multiply that scare factor by ten thousand. That’s how it feels to live with those voices, like you are inside a horror movie. And that was even though I knew the voices were not real. Many addicts don’t know. Imagine what it must be like for them.

And that, not knowing, is possibly what makes it so much worse. This is why I hate it when these posts get inundated with comments by people who think the voices are real. People who come up with coping mechanisms for the voices, who discover that they can change what the voices say, or who develop delusions and believe the voices are demons, or god. None of those things are real, and it makes me sad when I read those comments made by addicts who have lost their minds. Sad and maybe a little guilty. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t end up like them, as much as I wish they could all end up seeing reality like me.

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.

One of the silly things I tweaked on a few years ago…

This one still mesmerizes me.

I’ve reached that time of year where I am approaching another year clean. It’s a strange time when I remember all kinds of things. Most of them are bad – I remember the worst of the times in addiction, and I think about the people I met in rehab who have died in the years since then. But rather than write about that, I’m choosing to write about one of the odd things I used to tweak on. I rediscovered this yesterday.

My “jack of all trades” application, the one that does so many different things, also has a dialog to customize the Windows logon background image. It doesn’t work any more, because this was for Windows 7. The dialog that does it also looks like crap now, because it was a “glass” dialog, which displayed mostly transparent in Windows 7. Here’s how it looks in Windows 10:

CustomLogonScreenDialog

The dialog does some fancy drawing, and paints the selected image in the screen area of the monitor shown on the right. Those monitor images were made by me in Photoshop, to look like my two monitors on my table, except I changed the Samsung name to be “Romy”.

You won’t find monitor images quite like that anywhere else, because I drew them from scratch, of course. And it did take a considerable amount of time, because I am a programmer and not an artist, but that’s not the weirdness I want to focus on today… The weird bit is the image I took so long to create. I still find it mesmerizing to look at. This one:

Overcooked

You don’t want to know how long I tweaked on this stupid image. I don’t even remember.

I do know that I started out with the original Windows 7 logon image, then used a blue overlay, set to exclusion mode. (Yes, I excluded blue from a mostly blue image.) Then I did some funky shit with the colours, hand drew the birdy, leaves, a “sun” and some “planets”, and finally hand-painted some of the other curvy lines that aren’t in the original. Those curvy lines and the highlights/shadows on them… they became the object of my tweaking brain.

It does look sort of “pretty”.

But then I think to myself, I tweaked on this image for weeks when I should have been working on getting my son back. That’s what meth does – it fucks with your priorities. I was Nero as Jerome’s world burnt, fiddling away on stupid shit.

My story ended well, of course. But it was touch and go for a while there.