22 October 2012

Hitting rock bottom

After 20 years of addiction ups and downs, Health24 reader Glen knew it was time to stop.


I remember having given up all hope. I had been in a foreign country for almost a decade, having thought that by changing my environment, I could stop using. By now finding the ways and means to get more drugs had become a nightmare. I thought the double amputate, who used his pension to finance his habit was someone to aspire to. That is, if I manage to live that long. He lost his legs as a consequence of his drug use but at least he an income to finance his habit.

Feeling utterly alone, I remember seeing a BBC programme about a South African footballer, Albert Johanneson, who was found in his flat, days after he died in isolation. He was the first black footballer of any nationality to play in an FA Cup Final. I realised that that would be my likely fate.

Maya Angelou’s poem: “Still, I rise” was read at his funeral and the words moved me especially:

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

It seemed nobody cared

By then I had been using for about 20 years, unable to stop. Nobody knew where I was and it seemed that nobody cared. I knew I needed to try one more time to get clean. So I locked myself in my room to detox, going through the sweats, the shivers, the restlessness, the aching bones, legs shaking etc. At one stage I gave up but was too weak to inhale and kept coughing out the smoke. I remember afterwards how weak I felt but also a sense of being resurrected. 

Before and since then I have stopped a number of times but struggled to stay stopped. My life seemed to consist of a series of rock bottoms because I never knew another way of life was possible for an addict. I had never heard of Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Back in South Africa, and after a family intervention, I landed up in treatment. I was just so grateful to have a break from my life. I was in so much denial I was convinced that if I could just go back to the Thursday before I burnt my flat down, I go continue using drugs but this time control it. To be told that I was an addict, I found derogatory.  They said I had a disease and that it was incurable. I didn’t know which was worse.

They had the 12 steps on the wall and for the life of me I could not understand how this was suppose to help me. At my first NA meeting I could not believe that the people were addicts. They looked happy and confident but they spoke my story. It was then that I realised that maybe I was not alone and that maybe it was possible for an addict to find a new way to live. I decided to give the NA programme a try. I read about and tried to analyse everything about the programme and in the beginning, faked it. The truth was that although I could understand that I was an addict, I did not accept it deep down.

When I left treatment I felt refreshed and confident. Very soon I had all the trappings of success. I had a good job, got my girlfriend back, got a new flat, money etc and forgot the basics of the programme. I was told that whatever I put before my programme I would lose and that is exactly what happened.

 I took my sobriety for granted and when that little voice whispered ‘just one...nobody will know’ I relapsed. Again. But this time, using was never enjoyable again because I knew there as a better way. Never again would doubt the fact that I was an addict that could never use again as long as I live. By God’s grace I made it back to treatment and the rooms and still apply the basics of the programme today: go to meetings, work the steps with your sponsor and be of service.

(Story supplied by Narcotics Anonymous, October 2012)

Narcotics Anonymous website

24 hour helpline: 083 900 6962

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