How it was
I grew up in a small town in North Queensland with a mum who is a paediatric intensive care physician and a dad who’s both and an electrical engineer and mechanical engineer. I also have two younger brothers who are both electrical engineers. So I come from a nice family of high achievers and hard workers. Growing up, family life was pretty good.
My mother and father both had difficulty showing intimacy with us kids, but for different reasons. My mum had a violent alcoholic father, and my father came from a broken home which deeply affected him.
Because of mum’s upbringing she didn’t drink, and really hated having it in the house or seeing my father drinking. Dad, not being an alcoholic, could take it or leave it, and he left it, other than the odd after-work drink or snifter of Port at Christmas.
I remember my first drink. It was one beer at my parent’s beach house and I shared it with my cousin. I was around 16 and we both hated the taste but we didn’t want the other one to think we weren’t cool so we forced ourselves to finish it, which took the two of us about an hour so I didn’t get drunk and I thought “why the hell do people do this?” and pretty much left it alone until I went to university.
I left home at 17 to travel away to another city for university. Looking back, it feels like a big deal now, but back then I just thought it was what was expected of me. At university alcohol was everywhere. And when I turned 18 it also made it easier to get hold of.
I had to do more
So I went to university and a big part of my mother came out in me in that nothing’s ever enough and you can always do more so I decided to study two degrees at the same time, one in journalism and another in communications.
Then a big part of my father came out in me. Dad came from a very poor upbringing and didn’t always know if he’d have food for dinner. My mother came from a big farming family and they had money. But my dad refused to take any money from my mum’s family, everything they had they worked for it.
I decided I wanted to work rather than rely on my parents during university so I got a job to pay the bills so on top of my studies I ended up working around 35 hours a week. On my holidays I would also do work experience at media companies so I could have a portfolio of work to go with my degrees and hopefully get a job in media, which were very hard to come by. Of my graduating class of 150 kids, I was only 1 of 4 that got jobs as a journalist and from that point I have had a very successful career in journalism and politics.
On top of all this I was partying most nights and I think in total I was sleeping about 4hrs a night.
I loved getting shitfaced! I loved the confidence it gave me, the happy feelings that I could do anything, it just gave me wings to fly in a world where I felt deeply that I didn’t fit in. I had a general unease about myself that had always been there, and was going to get worse…
I came out
Around my second year of university I came out as being a gay man in north Queensland was is pretty conservative, and not really having the internet chat thing yet, or having any gay friends, booze and drugs gave me the courage to go to the gay bars for the first time, or kiss that boy for the first time, and feel comfortable in my own skin. God I just wanted to feel confortable in my own skin.
I found I could have a drink and it would make me feel just that little bit more confident. And so on the next occasion I would do it again, and again, and again until I found that my confidence had completely left me in social circumstances, like a plant I’d stopped watering or a muscle I’d stopped exercising – It had just withered and died. I could not be social without having something in my system.
This compounded a deep sense of loneliness that had plagued me my entire adult life. I’d spent so much of my life either working or smashed with people I only knew by first name that I wasn’t cultivating any real friendships and the ones I had cultivated were dying on the vine from neglect.
So when something huge like a relationship breakup comes along, I didn’t feel like I had the support network around me to deal with it. It was classic addiction – it isolated me from everyone.
Finding Crystal Meth
Then at about 28-years-old I found Crystal Meth and I thought it was just amazing. It made me confident in social situations and whereas alcohol had stopped working for me, the drugs made me happy. But I wanted more, and more and more, and what was a progression into alcoholism that took about 10 years took only 1 year into full-blown drug addiction. Within 12 months I went from using ecstasy, then cocaine, then GHB, then meth, and others and it got out of control. I still thought I was ok though. I thought I was having an amazing life with heaps of fun but I didn’t see the complete destruction I was causing to my life. My first sponsor and I worked out that in that one year of using drugs I spent at least $40,000. In this madness I was still holding down my job and paying my bills.
Importantly for me, I liked the release that meth gave me during sex. I was confident and dominant and got to experiment with different types of sex that I would never have been able to try otherwise. And again I wanted more of it. Towards the end I wasn’t able to have sex at all unless I was drunk or high.
Eventually, my partner at the time forced me to go to meetings otherwise he’d leave me following a particularly nasty bender which involved drugs and alcohol, thousands of dollars and a prostitute. So I was pushed kicking and screaming into the fellowship out of that fear of being alone and not because I thought I had a problem. So because of this, I relapsed constantly for about 2 years even though I was still going to meetings. I could mange to get one month, I could sometimes manage to get two months, but that was it, I always relapsed and I relapsed because I wasn’t prepared to put in the hard work, yet.
Then came what I hope is my rock bottom and I’m not going to go into it because we all have our war stories but it involved me once again being in the emergency ward of a hospital after a binge with my life hanging in the balance and I remember asking god to keep me safe and to protect me. I could handle all the consequences of yet another relapse but if god kept me safe this time I would give the program a real crack and actually start working the 12 Steps. I had found that point of desperation. And in that emergency ward I had puzzled doctors and nurses telling me I should be dead, but I wasn’t and I really should have been and they couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t. It reminds me that every single time I have humbly asked God for protection – every single time – I have been protected. And again I can’t explain that.
What it’s like now
I came so close to total disaster. It was like I was walking blindfolded towards the edge of the cliff, about to fall into oblivion when God put people in my life to get me into these rooms. I will be forever grateful to my now ex-boyfriend for getting me into these rooms, and thankful to god for helping me stay here.
This program has completely changed me. I came into this program just wanting to figure out a way to manage my using so I could get a boy back. Since then though I have learnt to be OK by myself, and developed a relationship with a higher power of my understanding. That very real and deep loneliness I have felt for years has left me. I get pangs of it from time to time, but it’s just a passing thought now it doesn’t consume me.
Interacting and sex
I feel comfortable enough in my skin now to interact with people on a social level without needing something in my system to feel comfortable. And I can have sex now without being high and still feel comfortable – I like sex and I’m good at it!
Impending sense of doom
What has also left me is an impending sense of doom that something terrible is just over the horizon and it’s coming to get me and everything in my world is going to fall apart. For example: if I went into work and there was a note on my desk asking me to see the boss I would automatically think of all the reasons he might want to see me and start making excuses for myself because I knew there was something terrible about to happen. And it had been that way all my life. I felt like the world was watching me and judging me. And I didn’t know it at the time but that is the bondage of self right there.
What that bondage of self, and those fears will do is make me take my world and everything in and shrink it down smaller and smaller and smaller until it fits into this tiny little box. What fits into that box is nothing – maybe a job and sleep – but that’s not a life. And what this program does is it takes that little tiny box and breaks it open and pushes out the boundaries that you thought you had set for yourself so you can experience a fantastically-amazing life that you deserve and do things that you never dreamed. I have friends, family, career, love all because I’ve allowed this program to take that little box and explode it into something amazing.
I want to talk about relapse for a second – I’ve seen too many people die because they thought they were exempt from the consequences of their using. But that is something that has changed in me. I always thought it would be OK to bust as long as I kept coming back. And while coming back is important, it’s not OK any more for me to relapse. Relapses kill people – they have killed my friends – and it might kill me next time.
Similarities not the differences
Something which has helped me is looking for the similarities not the differences. We can get into this program and think ‘I didn’t do that, that’s not part of my story’: Like I didn’t go to rehab, I didn’t lose a job, I didn’t use every day or whatever but if you start looking at the way we felt, and thought, you’re going to notice a lot of similarities.
Building a new person
I work in Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD. It’s a place with lots of people in suits busily weaving in amongst each other. For anyone not familiar with Martin Place, if you have watched the Matrix movies there’s a scene where the main character is learning about the Matrix in a simulation called “the woman in the red dress”. Well that’s Martin Place – The scene, and all those people, were filmed there.
It’s a great place to work. Just down by the water of Sydney Harbour with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge and plenty of pretty buildings – some old renovated heritage buildings made of wood or sandstone like Parliament House, the Supreme Court or the Commonwealth Bank Building, mixed with very tall newer buildings made from glass and steel like the huge MLC Centre.
But amongst all this there was an ugly duckling… it wasn’t an old colonial and it wasn’t one of the new pretty ones either. It was just unimpressive and dull. It was a couple of buildings over from mine. One day I was walking past it and I noticed signs had gone up saying it was being demolished and a new building would be put in its place. So for whatever reason the owners of that building decided it wasn’t worth saving – A fresh lick of paint and new furniture wasn’t going to be enough – a brand new one was coming…
The signs said the demolition and rebuild would take about a year.
Being Martin Place the buildings are all very closely packed in together and to protect all the pedestrians from the debris during the demolition and construction up shot these huge five-story-tall walls around the site.
The demolition was relatively quick and I could see the building coming down in only about three months.
But for the longest time after that it looked like nothing was happening – with those big walls up I couldn’t see on the inside. Every now-and-then a construction team would come and go but largely I seemed like work had stopped entirely.
But what I didn’t know was that over the next 6 months work on the inside of those walls was progressing in earnest, and on the most important and lengthy part of the build – the foundations.
Then, after about a-year-or-so from the day those signs first went up, it seemed as though almost overnight this amazing new building of glass and steel shot up.
I see that building every day and it reminds me of my journey from active addition to recovery: There have been plenty of times when it’s seemed like none of the work I’d been putting into my sobriety was paying off, because I’m always the last person to see any changes in me. But then after laying a strong foundation in sobriety up shot this brand new shiny person – a person that was built with the help so many people.
And I’m grateful that this program does not give you your old life repackaged – it does not slap on a fresh coat of paint, rearranges the furniture, and sends you on your way. It takes your life, clears away the wreckage of your old life, lays a solid foundation and gives you a BRAND NEW life. And for that I’m very grateful. My old life was crap, compared to this new one I live today.