As a child, I was a painfully shy, highly sensitive, delicate little blonde thing. I was smart, eager to please, desperate for love, and felt insignificant next to my tennis prodigy brother. I also struggled to make friends. I was both terrified of being left out and scared of being the focus. Panic-stricken of being seen for what I really was. And in the mind of that self- centered little addict, what I “really was,” was boring and mediocre. The core of my disease is that I can’t stand myself and I’m afraid that you will figure out that I’m a loser. In fact, I’m afraid of EVERYTHING. I’m just fear wrapped in skin. Oh yeah, and I blame you for that.
I didn’t have a great childhood. My father also has this disease; and, when I was about 9 or 10, his addiction spiraled out of control and my family started to disintegrate. His addiction changed us, all of us. He was constantly high, deeply insane, cheating, stealing, abusive, dangerous and frightening. This lasted for years. My mother was changed too. Anger, fear and frustration turned her unforgiving and harsh. I became such an angry girl, no longer eager to please my family or any adults for that matter. My grades swiftly declined. One surprising benefit that came from academic failure was a sliver of social acceptance at school. It was a subtle change, imperceptible to anyone but me, but I was very aware of it and ached for more. I wanted friends so badly, so I ran with it. I took on a bad attitude fast, cared nothing about school, and acquired something I didn’t realize I wanted… an “edge.” It felt good, and as all good addicts blindly believe, if something feels good, then more will feel better. Once I entered high school, “edgy” was my new persona. I dyed my hair black, started drinking whiskey behind the Sizzler before school, smoked weed at lunch and BAM! I had arrived. I was one of the cool kids and my problems seemed to have been solved. Getting loaded, hating everything, and not caring about consequences bought me acceptance and relief from the ever-present anxiety and loneliness that had plagued my soul from my earliest memory.
When I went away to college, I found the substance that worked best with my brain chemistry, crystal meth. It became the only thing that mattered to me. My whole life I had wanted to be “something” . . . beautiful, sexy, smart, popular, charismatic . . . ANYTHING but mediocre. I wanted to be loved by friends, respected by my family, adored by a boyfriend, and be perceived as extraordinary. Well, crystal didn’t turn me into that person or bring me any of those things, but what it did do for me was something that felt far greater at the time. It stopped me wanting those things altogether. The alcohol, weed, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin etc. had made it possible for me to breathe. Those substances made it possible to be around “you.” They helped me socialize with you, have sex with you, and impress you. Crystal meth, however, made you completely irrelevant. I didn’t need anyone anymore. I didn’t care what you thought of me or if you desired me. It was the greatest relief of my life because people couldn’t be counted on and they were constantly breaking my heart and bruising my ego. Crystal meth wiped away all their power; they could no longer hurt, disappoint, reject or abandon me… as long as I had my “product,” my weapons of mass destruction, and a bathroom with a door that locked. I found a solution that worked better than anything else ever had. All I needed from the world was to endlessly provide me with money and expect nothing in return but demands, cruelty and manipulation. Too much to ask?
But crystal meth had some demands, too. I became an all-day, all-night user almost right away, and I learned quickly what I needed to do to use the way I needed to use. I built my whole life around my using. I only had friends that used how I used; I only dated or slept with men who used like I used; I only took jobs where I could get away with using; and I cut loose anyone who questioned my drug use or insane behaviors.
The natural progression for me landed me in a relationship with another addict. Our introduction was a Hollywood meet-cute. He was withdrawing from Oxycontin and I had the heroin to cure it. We were drug-induced soulmates. This beautifully tragic man fueled and validated my drug use. We moved in together two days later. We lived and used together for three years. We absolutely hated each other by month six, but stayed together for the drugs (like parents do children). There was no love, no trust, no kindness, no tenderness between us. But we stayed there, together, because we had no one else. It’s a bad spot to be in when the person you despise the most, second only to yourself, is the only person you have left in your life. My drug use siphoned my humanity in all areas of my life. It became impossible to keep a job, let alone find one. Apparently, excusing yourself during a job interview at Target to slam in the bathroom doesn’t make a good first impression.
I burned my life to the ground. I was unhirable, friendless, penniless, and car-less. I totaled my car because I took a nap while driving, after staying up for five days on meth. My family wouldn’t let me in the house due to the “parasites” I had crawling in my skin (which, apparently, only crystal meth addicts can see.) I got kicked out of my apartment because landlords don’t like when their tenants live in squalor, have rigs everywhere and spray blood all over the walls when trying to eject a clog out of a rig. All of that was acceptable to me and became my new normal. By the end of my using, I was living in a hotel, 69 pounds, with track marks up and down my arms, veins collapsed… dying, miserable, desperate, and fucking insane. Had I continued to use like that, I was gonna die. I didn’t know I was dying, but I knew I was miserable and didn’t even consider that my using had anything to do with it. I blamed a million people: my parents, my boyfriend, the current occupant of the White House, etc., etc….anyone but me. Never me, and certainly never the drug use.
Eventually I got found out. My mother gave me one of two options: Get shipped to rehab in South Africa or die in the street. Strangely, the decision was hard to make, but once the excruciating withdrawal hit, I buckled and agreed to go to rehab in South Africa following a short stint in a local detox facility.
The detox facility was a blur. I remember sex with strangers, a suicide attempt and the unbearable pain. But one thing I remember vividly was the efforts of a phlebotomist to find a vein on the day I was admitted. All of my veins were collapsed and he said he wasn’t going to be able to do the draw. I BEGGED him to try again. I NEEDED to feel a needle in my arm one more time. Nothing else brought me pleasure. I had nothing to look forward to, nothing to be proud of, nothing to live for. The only thing I wanted was to be high, but the drugs had stopped working a long time ago and the world was demanding I get sober. I was bankrupt in every way. I knew the blood draw wouldn’t get me high but I had nothing else. I wanted to die. I think that phlebotomist saw how much pain I was in and took pity on me. He was eventually able to draw from my hand and I cried in gratitude for the gesture of clemency. When finished he held my hands and whispered to me, “It’s going to be ok.” These were the first kind words I’d heard in years. Of course, I didn’t believe him at the time, but looking back, I now see he was right.
After seven days of detox, unable to walk and needing to be wheeled through the airport in a wheelchair, I was accompanied by my brother on a flight to Johannesburg with a bag of benzos the detox had prescribed me. After commandeering the bag, I passed out, and the next thing I remember was exiting the plane in the South African heat embarrassing my brother with my exposed track marks. I was taken directly to the lockdown rehab facility. I was confronted immediately with a dilemma the day I got admitted: How to square their edict that I couldn’t get high anymore with the knowledge that there was no way in hell I could live without getting high. Did they know what they were asking me to do? They couldn’t know. ‘Cuz if they knew how bad it felt for me to be sober, they would never ask me to do it. I absolutely loathed rehab at first. None of their annoying slogans made sense. Obviously we can only live one day at a time, duh! Ain’t nobody lives 4 days at a time! And how was doing “homework” gonna keep a needle out of my arm? I wasn’t gonna be told what to do, I wasn’t gonna do your Steps, and I certainly wasn’t gonna have “God” crammed down my throat. I’m a homeless, penniless, friendless junky. I know what I’m doing!
So of course the time came when I figured out a way to escape.
Having not lived in South Africa since I was six, I needed a willing hostage who could take me to the nearest drug connect. Thus began my journey with a man named Cliff that included digging a tunnel under the barbed wire fence, trekking miles to the local Nigerian drug lord, dumpster diving to find the tools we would need to get high and sneaking back into the rehab. The sparkling success of that night was all I needed to make the journey alone the next time. I was again at the drug lord’s residence, doing whatever I needed to do to get high. The obsession had been released all over again, and that old slogan suddenly made sense. “One is too many and a thousand is never enough.” Shit. Did this 12 Step thing have some validity? Later came the realization that would serve as the platform to my recovery: I had none of the right answers. My thinking was faulty. I couldn’t rely on my own thinking because my best thinking landed me alone and miserable with a needle in my arm.
After being kicked out of rehab, they finally allowed me back. That last relapse had been painful and made me slightly less resistant to the process. But I had no idea how to do this deal called “a sober life,” and even my limited view of what happiness was seemed impossible without drugs. No addict wants to have to get sober. We want the drugs to work forever, free of consequences. But that scenario doesn’t exist. Working a program or killing myself seemed like my only options, because sobriety without a program is fucking painful. It is worse than being out there for a girl like me. But luckily I had been given the gift of desperation that the book talks about. This disease had beaten me into a state of reasonableness, and I was willing, for the first time, to follow both direction AND suggestion.
The rehab told me that if I worked a 12 Step program, the program would provide me with a design for living and show me how to live like a human being and not like an animal. I started working the Steps, even though I believed this program couldn’t work for such a broken girl like me. But I did the work despite that belief. And I actually became willing to ante up on what seemed like a useless investment for the slight chance that the pain might stop. Something different was my only option, unless I wanted to die, and I was tired of dying. I was tired of being unhappy. I was tired of being desperate, and I was tired of having to work so hard to feel something other than sick.
So I tried. The pain stayed with me month after month, but I stayed clean. I did what they told me to do. I got a job, I went to meetings, I did my step-work, I got a sponsor, I called that sponsor, I went to bed at a reasonable hour, I woke up at a reasonable hour, I made my bed, I washed my dishes, I ate 3 meals a day, I fellowshipped. I followed their instructions to the best of my ability, and I didn’t use no matter what. My sober posse and I now refer to that as “The No Matter Fucking What Club”.
Time went really slowly. I woke up one morning, at around six months clean, and I started to realize that some changes had occurred. I had been sleeping through the night for at least a week. I had actually had fun and laughed the evening before at fellowship. It didn’t take all my effort to walk or even breathe as it had before. I was looking forward to the meeting that night, I would see some friends I’d made. A whole bunch of little miracles started revealing themselves; and all of a sudden, I found myself grateful. For the first time, I believed I had a chance of staying clean. The program was WORKING!
At eight months sober, I was instructed to return to the United States and start cleaning up the wreckage of my past. My family in the States had no interest in being in my life, so I called the one friend I had who didn’t use. I had been awful to her in my using, but she showed up for me anyway. I didn’t deserve her forgiveness or kindness, but THANK GOD I don’t get what I deserve because if I did, I would probably be in jail or drooling into a cup. I began looking for sober living and a job, and I went to a meeting the first day back. I had nothing but a desire to stay sober and the gift of sobriety.
My first meetings in the States didn’t feel safe, and I couldn’t find the same quality of fellowship and sobriety that I had found when going to meetings in South Africa. A lot of men tried to get in my pants, and I was too scared to say “no” because I had no idea HOW to say “no.” I never had healthy boundaries or healthy relationships. How would I know what “healthy” even looked like? I’d been high since I was 13. Just because I put the drugs down didn’t mean I was all of a sudden a healthy human with healthy boundaries, self- esteem, and respect for the boundaries of others. Fuck no, I was still my sick little self, because I hadn’t finished my Steps or given this program the time it takes to heal and grow. That’s what the Steps are for. Although I was afraid to say “no” to men, I was even more afraid of relapsing. I started to question whether I could stay sober in the U.S. and began making plans to return to Johannesburg because I was willing to go to any lengths to stay sober. Luckily, my higher power placed an angel in my path at a woman’s AA meeting in the form of a hot-shot lawyer with fierce shoes and impeccable hair and nails. She was a crystal meth addict in recovery, and of course she spotted the only other tweaker in the room—a talent every tweaker possesses, whether using or sober.
She took me to my first Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting a few days later. That first meeting was unlike any other I had ever been to. People were speaking my language, telling the ugly truth but preaching a fierce solution. It was exactly what I needed. CMA revolutionized my sobriety. And for me, nothing has compared to the quality of its fellowship – a fellowship that loved on me but didn’t prey upon me. A fellowship where I can hear the specific details of my disease so I don’t forget. A fellowship for gutter tweakers like me. A fellowship that is inclusive. For me, CMA is where the rubber meets the road, where I can laugh my ass off about past debauchery, and where I have found love and support beyond measure.
Yes, I had what some would call a “shitty” childhood. And I got a lot of mileage out of that and gave myself a lot of permission to use behind it. But I don’t have to do that anymore. Because the truth is, I don’t need a good reason to use. I’m an addict. I have an allergy of the body, an obsession of the mind, and a malady of the spirit. I’d use if my life was shit, I’d use if my life was peaches and orgasms. Once I start using, I can’t stop; and if I’m not working a program, I can’t stop myself from starting. I have a disease of perception that makes me the victim, and you the perpetrator. It makes me the loser and you the person who has everything I don’t have. It gives me massively high expectations of both the world and myself, leaving no room for imperfection. And when neither the world nor I live up to my unrealistic expectations, my default solution is to medicate my broken heart. Working the steps of Crystal Meth Anonymous has replaced my desperate need to medicate that hurt. The pain has been replaced with joy.
The Steps are the treatment for the disease of addiction, the way radiation or chemo treat cancer. The Steps are our design for living. It is called a “12 Step Program” because, if you don’t work the 12 Steps, it doesn’t work. Yes, the Steps can be hard. This program has been the hardest, scariest gift of mercy I have ever been given. Without it I know I would be dead. On completion of Step 4, I knew I had this disease; and the patterns, behaviors, and thought processes revealed to me on that inventory were terrifying. But that terror gave way to willingness, and that willingness gave way to everything else. The Steps paved my path to freedom.
Today I have friends that I don’t screw over. I have a job that I show up to on time. I eat and sleep (every day). I shower and brush my teeth (every day). My mother doesn’t pay my rent, I do. The clothes I wear and the money I have in my pocket aren’t stolen. The things I say to you are actually true. I don’t tape the blinds shut. I don’t think my apartment is bugged. I don’t hate the sound of birds chirping in the morning because I haven’t slept all night and have to go to work soon. I don’t see bugs in my skin, nor do I spend hours trying to tweeze them out of my arms, face, and genitals. I don’t jar my urine because I am too afraid to leave the bedroom. And unless you’re an addict like me or a loved one who watched me go down, you’d have no idea what an absolute fucking miracle that is!
I have built my life around my recovery just as I had built my life around my using. The majority of my friends are in recovery. I don’t have friends who use. I don’t date men who use. I don’t date men who don’t support my recovery. I won’t work a job that takes away from my program. I am willing to drive an hour to hit a meeting, just as I was willing to drive an hour to connect with the dealer. I am certain today that there is no solution in using. When I convince myself that the solution is getting high, my life gets dark, everything gets worse, and I sell my spirit for a baggie.
This program isn’t for people who need it. It isn’t even for people who want it. All dying addicts need it, and most of us want it. This program is for people who WORK it. If you work it, it works. Even if you think you don’t need it. Even if you think you’re too broken. Even if you fucking hate it and want it to fail; it won’t, not if you work it. That is the magic that saved my life. When I first went to rehab, I thought this program wasn’t necessary. After I worked the first Step, I was convinced I was too sick to be saved. But I worked it anyway, because I had nowhere else to go. It was the last house on the block. I worked it and it worked. And 15 years later, it is still working. It still works because I haven’t changed anything that worked at the beginning. Why would I change what works? Why would I risk decreasing my odds of success when I’ve already proven what keeps me sober? The odds are not good to begin with for people who use the way I used, why would I put obstacles in my way?
There are six ingredients in what I like to call “my sweet cake of recovery.” –Meetings — Sponsorship –Stepwork –Higher Power –Service, and –Fellowship. As everyone knows, if you want to make something you see in a cookbook, you have to follow that recipe to a T. You don’t leave out ingredients, you don’t mess with the measurements, and you don’t substitute baking soda for sugar. If I don’t include all the ingredients, I don’t get my sweet cake at the end of it. Our recipe is right there in the Big Book and available to ANYONE that wants it. Maybe you don’t like sweet cake… maybe you like eating shit cake, I don’t know. If shit cake is your deal, that is absolutely your right; but I don’t recommend it. Cafeteria recovery doesn’t work for me. I don’t get to pick and choose what parts of the program I want to work. I work every part of this program because that’s what it takes for me to stay sober. That’s what it takes to survive this powerful and insidious disease centered in my mind. I’ve got a lot on the line. My whole damn life is on the line and I know it. I have worked a very solid Step 1 and I am under no illusion that I can drink or use substances like normal men and women. Once I start, I can’t stop; and if I don’t work a program, I can’t stop myself from starting. CMA is the only thing I have ever seen transform a dying, insane, daily crystal meth addict into a human being. This program didn’t “give me back my life.” My life sucked, I didn’t want that life back. It gave me a NEW life. Today my life is unrecognizable from what it was 15 years ago. The girl I once was would’ve resented the hell out of who I am today, LOL. And yes, sometimes this new life is hard. Life on life’s terms is the only offer on the table; not just for addicts, but for all. CMA doesn’t make my life perfect; it makes it possible.