James is a 34-year-old polydrug user. After drinking alcohol for the first time at the age of 14 he had a 15-year battle with addiction to alcohol, ice, cocaine, MDMA, and gambling.
James is now 18 months clean and sober after completing a 60-day residential addiction treatment program at Hader Clinic Queensland. This is his recovery story.
I grew up on the beach with my parents and two younger sisters. I feel like I had an excellent upbringing, I was happy and felt loved by both my parents. I was very social and had a lot of friends and competed at high levels of swimming and lifesaving. I always focused on my health and believed I would never drink or use drugs.
My parents separated when I was 12. This really rattled my world. We found out that my Dad had been having an affair. I have vivid memories of the arguments about this. I remember feeling really afraid. When my Dad left he told me I had to be the man of the house and look after my sisters. It felt like a lot of pressure. I felt alone with this pain.
Around the age of 14, I lost interest in sports and became more interested in my social life, friends, and girls. One of the first times I drank alcohol was on Christmas eve. I got drunk with some friends from work. I got so intoxicated that when I got home, I vomited everywhere all through my bed. My parents came into my bedroom and realised I had been drinking. I went into another room to sleep and completely missed Christmas that year. My parents were really disappointed.
I continued to drink at parties regularly for a few years. When I turned 16, I started to attend summer music festivals. This is where I was introduced to party drugs, I started to take ecstasy and cocaine and we would go to over 18 events. I remember a time I went to a music festival and the following week the withdrawal was frightening. I wasn’t sure if I had done permanent damage to my brain.
I remained very ambitious and wanted to do well at school. During years 11 and 12 I was afraid that the partying would impact my schoolwork so I tried to just use drugs sporadically or always wait until after my exams to party hard. I wanted to work in the health science industry. I completed high school and went on to complete a degree at university.
When I started university, I moved in with my dad. During the first year, I really knuckled down and focused on passing everything. But as soon as my exams were over, I would party hard. At this stage, I believed everyone was like me. Just working hard and using drugs recreationally. I didn’t believe that I had an issue.
I held down a job and my life was pretty manageable. I still partied 1 or 2 nights a week, but it hadn’t started to cause problems in my life yet. However, gradually things really started to go downhill. In my early 20s, my drug use changed from something I did occasionally for fun to something I needed to do to socialise. I started using party drugs often and even started to sell drugs. It was good to have extra money, but mostly I liked to be the life of the party and have drugs and people around all the time. I wanted the people around me to be on the same level as me. This continued for a few years, the shine had started to wear off and the drugs I was using didn’t feel as exciting as before.
I went to a music festival with a girl I was seeing. I knew she was an ice user. We were in the hotel room getting ready for the festival. I had always said I would never smoke ice; I knew the stigma around it and it had never been something I wanted to get involved with.
I had a huge night of drinking and partying. I was so hungover and sick. I felt pressured to try smoking ice with this girl. I smoked ice for the first time that night. I had other friends there who refused to do it and they were disappointed that I did.
It hit me straight away, it lasted all day and I didn’t need to keep taking more. It was something different. But the fact that I pushed aside my morals and took it so easily frightened me. I didn’t use ice again for a few months. I continued drinking and using party drugs.
At the age of 24, I tried ice once more and this time it really took hold of me. I started to use ice on a daily basis. I felt that I couldn’t do anything without it. A year passed by so quickly. I had stopped working and lost any ambition. For 6 months I did nothing but use ice, sell ice, or sleep. I became someone I never thought I would be. I was even stealing from family and friends. I would do anything to ensure I always had ice to use.
Over the next 18-month period I was hanging around people who were heavy users of ice. I was stuck in a room with people passing a pipe around for hours.
Being a daily ice user isolated me from everyone I loved. I was so far from the person I thought I was going to be. Everything went bad really quickly. I knew I had to get away from this scene. I had hit my first rock bottom I would try to stop using but knew I couldn’t in the situation I was in.
I had a sense of impending doom and felt like something really bad was going to happen to me. I had to get away. I went home to my mum I spent a month detoxing there. I just slept the whole time. It shocked me how much harm I had caused my family. I truly believed I had only harmed myself. I managed to stay clean from all drugs for this month. It was the first period of being clean I had in 10 years.
I decided to move to North Queensland where my Dad was living. I thought if I could get a job and get back into life, I would have the willpower to stay clean on my own. After about a month there I started drinking again. I started hanging around people that were using ice again. I remember the first time I was around people using I managed to say no. It was very difficult. The second time I just caved and started smoking ice again.
For a while, I kept my job but slowly using ice took over and I quickly went back to not working and using became the most important thing in my life. I couldn’t believe I was back in this situation. Where had my willpower gone?
I decided to try another geographical. I got offered a job further south and I moved away again. For the next 8 years, I continued to struggle with alcohol addiction and use party drugs. I felt that as long as I wasn’t using ice things wouldn’t spiral out of control so fast. I had started gambling a lot. Anything I could do to change the way I felt I did. I was full of guilt and shame. I would drink to the point of passing out regularly to numb the pain I felt.
In February last year, everything was out of control again. It became clear that the relationship I was in was going to come to an end if I didn’t change my life. She had given me so many chances to change over the previous years. We have a child together, he was 2 years old. I was so scared of losing my family, they meant everything to me. Even so, nothing could stop me.
Eventually, the relationship ended. I moved downstairs. I came to the conclusion that I needed to get help, that I could not do this on my own. I was on the verge of losing everything worthwhile in my life. I was completely defeated. My partner and family found Hader Clinic Queensland and organised everything for me. All I had to do was go there. I had nothing else. I was at the end of the road. I sorted out my work and used my super to go into residential addiction treatment.
I was really afraid, but once I got there, I had a sense of peace. I completely surrendered and was willing to take direction. The program at Hader Clinic Queensland gave me such a great foundation. I was able to learn tools that I still use today. Things like journaling, practising spiritual principles and particularly practising gratitude.
I was educated about addiction. They taught me I was sick, not morally deficient or weak. I heard my story there from other recovering addicts. I was taught to look at the similarities and not the differences. I know now that it didn’t matter what drugs I used. It always ended up in lies, deceit, isolation, and loneliness.
Before leaving I worked on an exit plan with my support worker. This included advice to connect with other peers in recovery regularly, go to regular NA meetings, to journal my thoughts and feelings. I was also given access to support services.
My advice to anyone who is struggling is that you deserve a better life. Once I truly surrendered and was honest with myself, I was able to accept the help I desperately needed.
Thanks to Hader Clinic Queensland, my life is completely different. I have stayed clean since I completed the 60-day program. I am free to be the person I was always meant to be. I spent so long living a double life, hiding my drug use and gambling. All of the lies and manipulation used so much energy. Today I have integrity. It feels like a weight has been lifted. Today my family have me back in their life.