Michael’s Addiction Recovery
After returning from Afghanistan, Michael turned to ice to cope with his feelings of isolation. Then he completed residential addiction treatment and is looking forward to becoming a dad. This is his story.
My name is Michael. At the time of doing this interview with the Hader Clinic Queensland, my partner could be about to deliver our baby girl at any moment. She was due yesterday, so I’m anticipating a call soon. I’m so excited. We’ll be meeting our daughter soon.
I never thought I’d be a dad. Two years ago, I was in the midst of battling my ice addiction, and the only thing on my mind was ice… finding it, getting it, and making sure my supply didn’t run out.
I grew up in a small, quiet town in Victoria. Growing up, I wasn’t particularly close with my family. Really, I was a little arsehole to my parents.
When I was 19, I joined the army. I basically moved from the bottom of Australia all the way up to Darwin. As a kid, that was unreal. I found myself on the other side of Australia, which is like here but hotter.
I mostly enjoyed it. Did it for 9 years, so obviously, there was something I liked about it. The last few years, when I got back from Afghanistan, were not great.
There was really nothing like Afghanistan.
That’s where my PTSD comes from.
The community within the army was really awesome. Unfortunately, one of the symptoms of my mental health issues was isolating myself. I pulled away when I was with that community.
In 2013, I arrived back from Afghanistan, and I wasn’t doing well. I was seeing doctors and psychologists, spending time in and out of mental wards… it was a difficult time. I was isolating myself.
I didn’t really go to my family for help or to talk about any of it. I was by myself, really struggling.
Before the ice, I had used other substances. I’ve smoked marijuana, done cocaine a couple of times, and drank too much. I went from “drinking too much” to full-blown ice addiction.
I’d just been fired, had a relationship breakdown, and was already in and out of the hospital with mental health stuff going on. I had pretty severe anxiety and depression. A little bit of PTSD too.
My family knew I was struggling and tried to get me to move back a little closer to them. I still isolated myself.
The ice use didn’t start until I was well and truly “by myself”.
A complete stranger offered it to me. I didn’t hesitate when I said “yes”. A year before, if someone had offered it to me, I probably would have said no. But I was by myself and having a really hard time – it honestly looked like fun.
The first time I tried it, it gave me psychosis. There was maybe half an hour of relief from everything – really noticeable relief. I instantly became sociable, less anxious, was in a great mood, and felt energetic. It was an instant fix to everything.
From the first time I used, I didn’t stop for about 6 months. All I was thinking was just, “I don’t want to run out of this.” Procuring it was a constant battle, trying to find it and always have it.
Apart from the relief, there was severe paranoia and proper psychosis – I was experiencing actual proper fear. There was real terror… but then relief from that by using. It was a vicious cycle. There were good periods where it would help you ignore all of that, but it created all of that as well.
There were maybe three times I wanted to stop. In moments where I didn’t have any, I would start realising what it was doing to me. I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore”.
I was on the phone trying to figure out how to stop, and then realising I can’t find out how to stop. I didn’t know how.
I was googling rehabs, I was googling drug and alcohol counsellors. I do remember Narcotics Anonymous coming up, but didn’t really think much about it.
My family knew I was using. They didn’t know what to do – I’d disappear for months at a time – but they wanted to help get me into rehab.
Eventually, they got in contact with Jay at the Hader Clinic Queensland.
I was amazed. He had had experience with substance abuse and explained what happened to him – gave me his life story. That was the very first time I had met an addict who had stopped.
It was a relief to hear Jay’s story. I’d never heard of that (recovering). Everyone knows someone who uses or has a problem with substances, but no one knows you can stop. That’s sort of like a fairy-tale.
I wasn’t hopeful for myself, but I was amazed to hear someone who had done it.
Jay said he could get me into rehab to help me, and I sort of thought, I don’t have any other options. I believed in what Jay said, so I went.
When I arrived at the residential rehab, I was just going through the motions. I was too tired to argue. I thought “may as well, got nothing else going on”.
Originally, I was going to do 30 days, but after maybe 30 arguments with the staff and my family, they convinced me to stay another 30 days.
At the end of 60 days, I decided to continue on to 90 days, and thought, maybe I should do outpatients too.
To be honest, in the first 30 days I “didn’t have a problem”. I hadn’t acknowledged that yet. It wasn’t until about 80 days in that things started clicking for me.
I was getting to the end of the program thinking, okay, I’m going to be coming out of here, going back to Victoria. My brain was going, right, so you’ll get off the plane, get on the train, but before you get on the train, you’re going to have to go to South Yarra… I need to get more meth for the train ride home.
And I thought, “oh”.
I realised that after 80 days of talking about my substance abuse problem, I still had a soft plan to use again. That was the moment I said to myself, “I might have a problem. I need to do something about it.”
Rehab was really hard.
I was still really suffering from psychosis, even after I had stopped using. I had that going on and was thinking, if this is going to be my life forever, I may as well keep using.
I had to ask for help.
I had to talk about my feelings.
I had to talk about my past.
I had to socialise with others.
I had to cook for myself.
I had to keep something tidy.
I had to wake up at the same time every day.
I had to go to class.
I honestly hated rehab.
I was still isolating myself too – I thought “No one knows what I’ve been through, no one can relate”.
Finishing up at rehab, I was in a great mood. I was really excited to be doing the transitional housing program. I could live in sunny Queensland, maybe go to the beach and surf, be away from all the shit in Victoria, and most importantly, I wouldn’t be allowed drugs or alcohol.
I wouldn’t be where I am now without rehab, even if it was really hard. But if I hadn’t completed the transitional housing program, I wouldn’t have made it this far either.
There were some hard lessons I needed to learn, and if I hadn’t been in the transition house being held accountable, I really would have fallen backwards.
When I told my family I was doing transition and wasn’t coming home to Victoria, they were like “Why?! He’s disappearing again”. But I admitted to them, I really have a problem and I want to stay up here to do something about it.
That was the first time I had admitted I have a problem, and hearing that, they were very happy for me to stay up here.
Narcotics Anonymous has been awesome. Most of my closest friends are in the rooms with me. I’m not isolated anymore.
Doing the drug testing, doing the “musts” of the program, and being held accountable was really great for me. I needed it, and I was glad it was pen and paper, and “I’m doing what I’m saying I’ll do”.
I talk to my family much more often now. I mended a lot of those relationships. There were some that hadn’t been there at all but now are, some on the mend, and I have a way better relationship with my parents now.
Now, I’m about to become a dad. My partner was supposed to deliver yesterday, but that didn’t happen. It’ll be any moment now.
I’m excited and nervous. It’s going to be a little baby girl.
My partner and I met through the rooms (group meetings)– when I was halfway through transition.
We both deeply understand that experience and the importance of doing something about it.
We encourage each other lots through our step work, but don’t focus too much on our trauma. We’ve got bigger and better things to focus on now.
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