Paul’s Story of Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery
My name is Paul, I’m 39 years old. For years I was a ‘high-functioning’ alcohol and drug addict, working as an accountant in Sydney. From the outside, everything seemed great. I believed as long as I was “kicking goals” (nice home, beautiful family, successful job) then I didn’t have to face my addiction issues. But eventually everything began to fall apart.
I might not seem like a stereotypical drug addict but outward appearances made no difference. Ice addiction and alcoholism can destroy lives regardless of what else we have achieved. Right before I hit rock bottom, I was still respected in my work. Still in a long-term marriage with two beautiful daughters. Still had superficially nice relationships with friends and colleagues… But I was living a double life. And inside our Potts Point apartment, my wife had found the needles I was using to shoot up methamphetamine. It was one betrayal too many.
I was on the road to losing everything. I’d already tried 3 rehabs in my life, but Hader Clinic Queensland and the 12 Step Fellowships are the only things which helped me get completely clean and sober. This is my story of addiction and recovery.
I grew up in Brisbane, the youngest of three siblings, attending Brisbane Grammar school. In many ways I had a good childhood. I remember visiting my cousins in the country and catching yabbies. Playing cricket in summer and touch footy in winter. We had a dalmatian called Chipper.
My parents were loving but I didn’t spend much time with them. Dad was often working away. I had many hours before and after school by myself. Looking back, I think I lacked connection. I always wanted to hang out with the friends of my older siblings and just wanted to fit in. I had my first drink with some older kids at 12 years old, and got into trouble when I came home drunk. I can remember the anger and concern of my parents. For me drinking was the key to having fun and feeling like I ‘belonged’. It was around this time that secrecy, lies and living a Double Life became the norm – there were always two Pauls.
I started smoking pot almost every day from about Grade 9 onwards, and started experimenting with heroin, speed and ecstasy by the time I was in grade 10 to cope with my boredom and anxiety. I always did this away from home, so my parents and teachers had no idea. My family thought I was just drinking a bit at parties on the weekends, like many teenage boys. They would bring me up on this, but there were no real consequences or supervision. I became very skilled in lying and covering my tracks. Later I learned that these other habits – denial, dishonesty and avoidance – were part of the disease of addiction.
Around age 19 at uni I had quit pot, but started injecting Subutex and speed nearly every day, as well as drinking. I was always anxious. I had two separate groups of friends – the Normal ones from uni, and another group who I bought drugs and used with. Sometimes my drug use slowed down when I didn’t have money; I occasionally took on work to fund my habit. At one stage I was treading water doing one subject a semester, and not having any real direction in life. I remember taking Subutex with me when I went to the UK for my cousin’s wedding – having to detox myself and rely on alcohol while I was over there, keeping all of this a secret
At 20 years old, my father died. I was too young to lose my Dad, perhaps I hadn’t really processed it. I continued on a spiral of daily drinking while living at home. My mother and siblings tried to control my drinking and put some rules and supervision in place, but I found ways around it. When I was told I wasn’t allowed to get drunk at home, I would just go outside, or disappear overnight and sleep in the park. None of their attempts at setting boundaries worked.
I first went to a rehab at age 24 and met my girlfriend (who is now my wife). I tried to internalise what that rehab taught me, but I wasn’t ready for sobriety. My girlfriend and I stayed sober for a while but relapsed not long after. Over the years I did manage to have periods of abstinence, but the whole time I was obsessing about when I could start again. At Hader Clinic I learned this is the nature of my disease – the constant thoughts of drinking, and inability to control it once I start.
I ended up finishing my degree, getting married, taking on a job as an accountant and my wife worked as a teacher. We would drink together, sometimes quitting to go on a short Health Kick, then starting again. This whole time I was advancing up the corporate ladder, and my family wasn’t aware of how serious my alcoholism was. There was a big drinking culture at my work. And I thought as long as I was achieving things in life, the alcohol wasn’t a problem.
My wife and I struggled with fertility issues and went through IVF to have our two daughters. I was working long hours in a high-pressure job; it was an emotional rollercoaster. While my wife was pregnant and not drinking, I was still doing it a lot and she was the designated driver. I think that caused some resentment. To me, my alcohol use was normal and understandable, given the nature of my job. While my wife’s attention was on the new baby, I believed that as long as I was bringing in money then I had a right to drink whenever I wanted.
The pressure of my position at work and being a provider was huge. I had constant hangovers, so I started taking codeine (back when it was available over the counter) to get rid of the headache and try to function. My parents and siblings were in another state – they didn’t know how much I was drinking. I think my wife was covering for me because she didn’t want people to know how bad it was. Again, I told myself as long as I was kicking goals, I could cope with my alcohol intake.
Around the start of COVID I began using cocaine in secret, trying to avoid exhaustion. We were working from home and had a second child by now. My wife knew about my drinking but not the drugs. She was having to play the role of parent for our kids and her husband. I was able to keep the coke a secret for about two years. Six months before I got caught, I started to use ice and it quickly became a daily habit.
There were constant questions from my wife; she could see I was acting differently. I lied to her again and again when she asked me if I was on drugs. I was avoidant, gardening a lot, staying up late at night. I almost wanted to get caught because I couldn’t handle the pressure of lying anymore. But I didn’t know how to stop. When my wife found syringes in my bag, shit hit the fan. But she was relieved to know she wasn’t imagining things. The word Gaslighting came up a lot. We talked it out and I said I wouldn’t use ice anymore. But two weeks after making this promise I was caught again. This time my wife told my family, and my brother flew down from Brisbane the next day
My wife had talked about ending our marriage if I didn’t go to rehab. I took 2 weeks off to stay in a residential facility so I could be back at work by June 30. I thought I could manage things on my own. The drinking never stopped. I ended up quitting my job because I thought that was the real problem. I did another short stint at a different rehab, applied for a new job, and moved into a new home. But I was already relapsing on alcohol and ice before I even started my new position. I was keeping secrets and lying to my family again
My new job was in Brisbane with 10 weeks annual leave a year, so my wife stayed in Sydney with the kids. Perhaps that was part of the appeal – being in a different city made it much easier to hide my daily methamphetamine habit. I thought one day I would have to deal with this addiction, but that was a Later On Problem.
That job didn’t last long. I couldn’t get anything done and my cognition was terrible. I had a bad performance review and was convinced people were trying to hack my phone. I’d worked in the same industry for over 10 years, I was experienced and qualified, but I found myself staring at a spreadsheet realising I couldn’t even use it. The psychosis was destroying my brain. I came clean to my wife and my family that I was using again and checked myself into Hader Clinic. My wife had had enough though. She told me whether this rehab was successful or not our marriage was over… I was at my lowest point, and yet I had this deluded sense of optimism that everything might be ok.
The Hader Clinic program and the 12-Step Literature showed me the reality of my situation – my addiction is a disease; I am not in control. While I was in rehab I learned why I’d been behaving this way all my life. Most of the Hader Clinic staff have personal experience with addiction. Something inside me trusted them, no matter how I felt. Even when I had moments of paranoia and resistance, I always had strong faith in these people.
Hader Clinic workers were frank and honest with me. They have a consistent daily message of recovery; how crucial it is to be open-minded and willing. They helped me get in touch with my spiritual side. There were strict rules at this facility, but they were necessary.
I thought I might leave after 28 days, but soon realised I’d probably relapse unless I committed myself to the process. I completed Hader Clinic’s 90-day program where I learned the tools for how to live my life after rehab and heal my destroyed relationships. The more I progressed, my demeanour changed. For the first time in my life, I was being completely honest. My wife noticed this during our conversations while I was in the clinic. I wasn’t making promises anymore, and constantly saying sorry. The support workers told me making amends with my actions was the most important thing. My wife came up to visit during day leave, and we had a beautiful weekend away with our girls. We were slowly rebuilding.
I think the key difference with Hader Clinic is the support they provided to my family. Their staff formed relationships with my wife and mum and are still in contact with them since I left rehab. They provided literature to help them understand addiction. My wife had family sessions with Hader Clinic support workers during my treatment. The longer I stayed on, the more I noticed conversations with my family improving. My wife stopped drinking in solidarity after discussions with the rehab staff. She was happy to do this.
My marriage is stronger now. Hader Clinic has reset our relationship. I’ve been clean & sober for almost 5 months and going to 12-Step Fellowship meetings every day. I made new friends in recovery, surrounding myself with others who are committed to the journey. Sometimes I see my old friends, but I don’t go to the pub with them anymore. It’s nice to sit down today and just have a nice lunch and chat with my mates.
When I came back home, things were not perfect. But we’ve settled into normality. We’re preparing for Christmas (my family will not be drinking this year). I enjoy taking my girls to daycare, reading self-help books and parenting books, and getting back into gardening. I have a counsellor and a psychologist to help support me. I’m learning to – as Jamie from Hader Clinic says – “Lean into the uncomfortable”. I do a lot of prayer, meditation, and yoga to keep me grounded, and create space between my thoughts and emotions.
The best thing about my new life after Hader Clinic is being present for my kids in a way I never was before. We have such a strong bond. And I have an honest, intimate connection with my wife. I feel a sense of purpose; getting in touch with what really matters. Life is so much more than career and money. Right now, my recovery, my wife and children are my biggest priority.
Next year I’m looking into a career change… I think I’d like to get a job helping others and connecting with people. Something that fulfils me spiritually, not just providing an income. There are so many little pleasures in life I can enjoy. I’m really into classical music. I love going for walks and watching the water. I love every moment of taking my girls to their activities, water parks, having family nights in and dinner together.
My daughters’ favourite food (apart from chocolate) is Vietnamese Pho soup. When I come out to my balcony every day, I see my beautiful garden of pot plants and herbs and flowers. I would never have thought life could be this content. I wouldn’t sacrifice what I have now for anything in the world.
Names and photographs of this client have been changed to protect their privacy.
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