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Twenty, paranoid and addicted

I tried my first drug at the age of 12 and my first drink shortly after my 13th birthday. They had a profound effect on me, but at that point I didn't become a regular user. By the time I was fifteen, I was drinking and smoking regularly and by the time I was 18 it was excessive and causing embarrassment to myself and others on a regular basis.

By the time I was in my early twenties, I had lost my driving licence, been hospitalised with pancreatitis and was experiencing a lot of paranoia due to my drug taking. Suicidal thoughts continued to race through me whenever I wasn’t high. Doctors told me I shouldn’t drink on my medication but I didn’t think it made any difference. On a night out, I often didn't make it as far as the bar or club with my friends because I was too out of it or anxious to leave the house. When I did go, I hated to wake up the following morning and hear what I had done. A lot of people found drinking, taking drugs and all the shenanigans that happened as a result simply part of being that age and all good fun, but I didn't - and yet I still did it. I couldn't understand why I kept repeating this pattern that I despised and then pretending that it was a great night whilst apologising profusely to those I badgered for drugs, those whose belongings I lost, those who had to take me home and pay for the taxi.

By the time I was in my mid twenties, I was struggling to work in the kind of jobs that I had been doing before. My efforts to lead a 'normal' existence were becoming harder to maintain. My relationships were destructive and yet I clung to them. I was being referred more and more to mental health professionals and crisis teams.

By the time someone took me to a 'meeting' I had lost my boyfriend, my parents and siblings didn't want me in their respective homes, my physical and mental health were dire and there were bailiffs and police knocking at other people's doors looking for me. And still I maintained that I was a professional who just needed to stop taking drugs so that I could get back to work.

The problem was that whenever I stopped or detoxed, I could never stay stopped for very long. Once I started taking any drug or having the odd drink, sooner or later I ended up in an even bigger mess than before. Death seemed the only option. Or a life on drugs. Both weren't really options. I was stuck and both the GP and the CPN didn't know what to do. Even the local supported housing organisation said I was too chaotic to live in their staffed projects.

'Meetings' gave me a glimmer of hope. They are like drug and alcohol support groups but they are organised by people who have got better and they do it for free. Even the meetings are free. Everyone helps each other. Some people have been drink and drug free for decades and their lives are amazing.

Although I felt an outsider at meetings for a long time, I could hear people talk about similar thoughts I was having and similar patterns of drink and drug use and their consequences. I still wasn't sure I was like them though - I really, REALLY didn't want to accept that an occasional binge was not a good idea or a healthy way to deal with life. I wished I could do that like other people. But the fact is I can't any more. And actually I hardly ever miss it now.

Eventually, the Hope I heard in meetings gave me a bit of external Power that boosted me to fight. One former employer had told me that she couldn't see my soul at all any more. She was right. Drugs made my soul undetectable to others, but it was still there, hidden somewhere. DAA has well and truly brought it out into the open.

So with that hope came my first bit of power to fight this insane craving that still seemed to be a fundamental part of me. I couldn't imagine it not being there, but I had to try to be like the other people in the meetings. I appealed the Housing Project decision and voluntarily committed to go to meetings. When senior management overruled the original decision and I got a bedsit, the support worker didn't even bother meeting with me. I set out to prove her wrong.

A few months later, and some more futile efforts to control my obsessive and compulsive behaviour (they were better but I was still a ticking time bomb and my drug taking became more secretive and terrifying), I completed a detox and engaged in a fourteen week programme in my local drug and alcohol service. It was based around 12 steps towards recovery from drugs and I managed to turn up nearly every day. It took every effort to get on the bus each morning and every night I went home still thinking about drugs or a sneaky bottle of wine.

I struggled on after this, still not feeling quite at home in meetings, still thinking about drugs and the pub all the time. I relapsed in secret and was terrified of losing what I had only just started to get back in my life.

At this point, the only positive of being (mostly) abstinent from drugs and alcohol was the state of my bank balance. Everything else felt terrible.

One day, a woman came to share at my local DAA meeting.

She talked about how drugs took over so much of her thinking and got her into trouble.

Then she talked about how she did some work with a guide called a sponsor.

Finally, and most importantly for me, she said that nowadays she had a good job, friends who still drank who she could hang out with and have a laugh with, and a life where she wasn't afraid to go and do things with other people who were using. She could go travelling, try new things and live like any other 'normal' person.

She sounded believable and there were some parts of her life that I really identified with.

I asked her to be my sponsor.

Not only have I not drunk or taken drugs since, I hardly ever think about them. I hang out with friends and family who drink or take drugs and I don't feel jealous. I go home when I'm tired. I remember the good times. I work in a school again, in spite of some dodgy stuff on my police record which I can speak honestly about. I love my job. I have a home in which I have never taken drugs. I have taken up new ways to relax and have a laugh with new friends. I can laugh and cry in a way that feels good and healthy. I don't feel like an outcast within my family. I have healthy boundaries so that I can be consistently helpful to friends and family without taking on too much. I have been discharged from mental health services for the first time in twenty years. In short, A LOT has changed in 3 years. IT'S AMAZING!!

The reason my life has changed is because I didn't just go to meetings and do service any more. I also went through each of the 12 steps. In the right order, with my sponsor. In the exact way my sponsor suggested, instead of my way. It was a battle at times because I am stubborn and not used to opening up or trusting someone else's guidance, but over time I've become better and better at it. I am starting to trust some people. I feel better for it. I am less scared, less angry, less sad, less lonely, less worried about money.

DAA (Drug Addicts Anonymous) has not just changed my life, it gave me a structured set of tools (a kind of spiritual CBT) that meant I can be who I always hoped I could be. I haven't got what I thought I wanted, but I am more than happy with what I now have. I've started to feel connected to other recovered addicts. They have become my friends.

My friends and family who aren't addicts used to think 'meetings' and 'Step work' with a 'sponsor' were strange and worrying. They would say, 'who are these people?' or 'She looks a bit odd' or 'It sounds controlling and cultish'. Now they say things like, 'She's on top form' or 'That was the best day; shall we make a plan for next month?' My GP occasionally says, 'Have you spoken to your sponsor about this?' My sense of humour only made rare appearances for twenty eight years, and it was usually when under the influence. Today I am relaxed enough to have one - most of the time!!

Addiction will kill you in one way or another. You may already feel dead, look dead or be acting dead inside. You might not even have noticed. The DAA community and the work I've done with a sponsor mean I am well and truly alive today. If you are able to be open to learning to be truly honest, you can be alive all the time too. Without drugs!

Hooray for DAA. Please try it. It's free. Everyone deserves to live a life feeling good. Including you.

Oli

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