Adam’s Recovery Story: ‘A Moment of Clarity’

After spending years in Australia locked into an addiction to amphetamine, cannabis and alcohol, Adam’s recovery took him to the other side of the world. (7,185 words)

‘I am so enjoying my recovery journey; it has its ups and downs, but doesn’t everything. To be able to wake up each morning clear-headed, to be able to smell the early-morning fresh air, to hear the birds chirping, to smell the roses… to take in everything that I used to ignore or take for granted is such a blessing. I’m living a life I never thought was possible.’

1. Early recreational use
I was born in Brisbane 35 years ago. Mum had a fling whilst away nursing and I never got to meet my father. She later married my stepfather, and when I was a toddler the family moved to Dapto, a suburb of Wollongong in New South Wales. I have a half-brother and a half-sister.

I was a typical rebellious teenager, getting into trouble a lot at school and giving the teachers a good deal of grief. I used to charge around on my BMX bike with the Bandits. I’d ‘knick’ milk bottles off people’s doorsteps and pick up newspapers from someone’s garden to give to my mum.

I was often in trouble with my parents for ‘wagging’ (missing) school, stealing money or joyriding. One time, mum caught me driving the family car into the driveway. I was ‘shitting’ myself so much I accidentally floored the accelerator and drove into the side of the house!

My fondest memories of this time are surfing and growing cannabis plants. We grew our plants near the local golf course, using high-quality dirt from the golf greens and fertiliser from the club’s shed. The plants grew as high as six feet, but we had to use wire to protect them from local thieves… deer. At that time, I got more fun out of growing dope than smoking it.

I was drinking alcohol from when I was 15 years old. I used to pour some of mum’s wine into my drink bottle and take it to school. I had my first bong when I was 16 and I used to smoke dope regularly during school time, out the back of the school grounds.

I left school at the same age. I wanted to become a chef, maybe because I loved food. My first job was as an apprentice chef in a local café. However, I got the sack months later for drinking the cooking alcohol from the kitchen. I loved booze even at that stage, since it gave me a buzz and made the day go quicker.

I was taken on by a ‘brickie’ (bricklayer) and moved out of home. I met a new gang of boys and starting drinking and smoking dope regularly. I’d wake up most mornings with a hangover and needed a few bongs to get going. I got sacked after less than a year for drinking and driving regularly, and moved back home. 

Soon after, I met Pud, who was the biggest dope dealer in town. I became his runner, looking out for him so that he didn’t get ‘knicked’ by the police and hiding large bags of his supply in my garden. Needless to say, I was smoking a lot of dope at this time.

The worst thing I did at this time, and probably in the whole of my life, was to steal a $1,000 from my grandmother, my stepdad’s mother. I bolted off to a town in the north of the state, only to find my parents there. I thought they were chasing me (they weren’t), so I headed back to Wollongong. A mate of my sister called and asked if I knew what had happened. I confessed that I was in a lot of shit and she said she didn’t know about that, but my grandfather (on my mother’s side) had died. I felt really ashamed of myself, even more so when I didn’t attend the funeral for fear of being confronted by my parents. I lived with the guilt of stealing from my family throughout the years of my addiction.

2. Culture of drinking and drugging
I got a job with Pud in the industrial cleaning industry that lasted about eight years. We used to service all sorts of industries and deal with various large-scale problems, such as oil spills. I continued drinking heavily and smoking a lot of dope. One of the lads brought in some speed one day and it wasn’t long before we were snorting it off car dashboards. The speed really helped us deal with the long hours and back-breaking work.

I remember one particular car trip back from Sydney international airport. My mate pulled out two syringes and offered me one full of speed. I would never have used a needle normally, but I just thought it a natural thing to do at that particular time. The effects were fantastic and I didn’t stop talking throughout the two-hour trip home.

We never thought to question what we were doing. It was just part of life. A typical day would start with a couple of cones at 04.30 to get up, then some cones on the way to work. After a day of hard work, I’d inject speed on the way home, then start drinking and smoking dope, or using speed, in the evening. Sometimes, I wouldn’t sleep for two weeks at a time. It was madness! I eventually got my own truck and was constantly drinking and drugging and driving. Amazingly, I never got caught or crashed the truck.

I was self-medicating in an effort to counter the hangovers and general bad feelings I experienced. I’d sometimes have to take a‘sicky’ because I was feeling so bad. However, I didn’t think to stop or slow down my drinking and using, I just got on with it and did more. My tolerance for booze, speed and dope was increasing so that I was taking huge amounts of each substance. Money came in and went out fast.

There was a culture of drinking and drugging in this branch of the company. All the guys were doing it and they only chose new employees who fitted in… and would do the same. They certainly didn’t want to hire anyone who might speak out about what was going on.

3. On the road
When I was 25, I was living with a girl who worked in the mental health field. Although we decided to get engaged, Penny was always confronting me about my drinking and drugging. I would generally return home smashed after working away for a couple of weeks. Here was my opportunity to settle down and have a family life, but the booze and drugs, and the camaraderie of my mates, were more important.

One day, I came home earlier than usual and found Penny in bed with my best mate. They’d been sleeping together for three months. I was devastated and immediately broke off with her. From that moment, I lost respect for women, money and even life. It was a long time before this respect was restored.

I gave up my job and drank and drugged away the payoff money. I was completely lost, just not knowing what to do or how to cope with the situation. I was ‘drinking to forget’ big-time, and the consequences of my drinking became more severe. I got involved in fights, started pissing myself in public, and humiliating myself in other ways. Blackouts became common and I would often find myself in places distant to where I had started drinking that day. Friends stopped drinking with me, because I was an embarrassment to be around.

I was soon out of money and drugs. I hitchhiked up to Brisbane and got offered a job as a bar tender/waiter on Lindeman Island, off the Great Barrier Reef. A beautiful place to enjoy, but I spent the next nine months drinking, partying and going to work smashed. I stole large casks of wine and drank those for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I started smoking dope and eventually found a supply of speed on the island. I spent most of my drinking time on my own, since I was worried about getting really ‘shit-faced’ and embarrassing myself in company. The only way I would socialise was if I had been taking speed.

Eventually, I got sick of this life and decided to move on. I headed to Melbourne where I spent all my money on drink and drugs and ended up on benefits. A heavy drinking friend and I decided to hitchhike to a working hostel he knew in Barmera in South Australia. I was once again escaping from the consequences of my drinking and drugging as they became too problematical. On the way to Barmera, in the middle of the bush, we found a large bag of dope, the size of a Coles’ shopping bag. All our Christmas’s at once! We were then picked up by a hippie and not long after stopped by the cops. We were bricking it, convinced we would be searched. We weren’t.

I ended up staying in the Barmera hostel for eight months, working in the orchards and on various farms. I joined the backpacking culture of drinking and drugging. In fact, I was the perfect teacher, or role model, for all those people from abroad who wanted to be part of this Aussie way of life. We would often go to a bottle shop at lunchtime to purchase bottles of tequila and vodka, and get ourselves smashed whilst picking oranges. I was sleeping with lots of women, showing them no respect at all. I was doing crazy things like jumping off bridges, with the consequences of busting my tailbone and biting off part of my tongue. I tried to be the centre of attention, but became the joker in the pack.

I met a UK girl who wanted to visit Perth. I only went with Allena because I was looking for an excuse to leave and she had money. I had spent all mine, mainly on booze. We travelled to Perth on the Indian Pacific railroad and then went down to Albany to do some woofing, basically working for our accommodation.

We worked on an organic farm, a place where there was plenty of wine to drink. I was very good at hiding my drunken state when working. Three months later, Allena decided to leave because she wrongly thought I was sleeping with someone else. As she had been paying for everything for me, most importantly my booze, I was now left high and dry without any money.

However, luck smiled and the people in Albany helped me to link up with someone in Perth. He was an American, whom I soon learnt was not only running a brothel, but had also overstayed his welcome in Australia. Immigration officials came to drag him away, leaving me ‘in charge’ of his apartment, and his large supply of booze and drugs. It was like Christmas again! I left his apartment when I had finished his supply. I went and stayed with the Salvation Army in East Perth until I burnt that bridge too, having failed to pay any rent.

4. Avoiding the consequences
I got a job as a groundsman for an arborist (tree surgeon) and linked up with Peter, who was a speed freak. In fact, a number of the arborists who I worked with loved their speed. I moved into a house in Thornlie with Peter and Kerry, who also had a drug problem. Peter knew ‘respectable’ dealers, so we got high quality speed at a very decent price. We were spending $400 a week on the drug.

A typical week consisted of injecting speed from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. I was active all the time during the day, tending the plants in our garden (I loved my orchids), mowing the lawn, fishing, and going for long walks. I always had to be doing something or I’d get bored. I drank and smoked dope from Sunday afternoon in order to come down from the speed. I would wake up on Monday morning feeling awful.

Initially, I generally didn’t use speed during the week, but if we did we would be really activated and finish off a tree quickly. The boss, who was not a user, would sometimes comment on how much we’d done and ask what we were on! I’d drink and smoke dope throughout the week, but it wasn’t long before I was also doing speed a lot.

I was going up on speed, down on dope and in-between on booze. Dope sometimes made me paranoid if things were ‘going on’ in my life (which they often were) and speed would send me all over the place and sometimes paranoid. I’d also get paranoid coming down from speed, as well as feel totally exhausted. My arms and legs would often cramp up from dehydration.

On top of this, I was continually feeling guilt and shame. When sober, I often asked myself why I continued to act in this way when I felt so shitty all the time. I would think about my family, wondering what they would say and do if they knew the state I was in. I couldn’t understand why I kept using and drinking in this way, so to deal with the shit going through my head I would start drinking again.

This routine of drinking and drugging continued for the six months I lived in Thornlie. During this time, I became good friends with Brendon Humphries of the Fremantle band Kill Devil Hills. I was invited to the band’s gigs but always drank too much and never remembered the end of gigs. Brendon always ended up having to take me home and next day I would have to remember where I had parked the car. Brendon tried to get me to cut down on the speed, but with no success.

I moved to Fremantle where I soon found another crowd of speed users. I just bumped into new crowds of users everywhere. I jumped from place to place until I met a Dutch lady (with three kids) who offered to rent me a room. We ended up hooking up, moving into a bigger house in a very nice neighborhood, and were like a married couple with kids. I had always wanted children, but I didn’t know the situation in which I was getting myself.

Unknown to me, my lady friend had a huge drugs habit. I first realised this after the tablets I was given to help me sleep after an operation all disappeared one morning. A common love of drugs and drinking, along with our continual verbal and physical fights, did not make for a good situation. The constant substance use, fighting, ups and downs, and feelings that we were not treating the kids well, all started to take its toll on me. I found myself going crazy.

I was drunk one day and felt sick and tired of everything. I felt I couldn’t do anything right and decided that the easiest way out of my situation was to take my own life. Fortunately, a neighbour saw me setting up a noose in the backyard and called the police. As I was stepping up on to the chair to slip the noose around my neck, two policemen came charging through the gate and barreled me to the ground. They took me to hospital, where I was drugged and knocked out, before being let go the next day. They told me I was drinking too much.

At this time, I was well aware that I had a problem, but I just didn’t know what to do about it or where to go to get it sorted. The hospital hadn’t done anything, so I thought that maybe I didn’t have a bad problem.

One day, I went to stay with a friend after I being kicked out of my house. We went out drinking and I got smashed. My friend convinced me that my partner would let me back home, so I headed back. She had changed the locks and in a temper I tried to kick the doors down. The next thing I remember I was lying in a hospital bed feeling very sore. Apparently, she had called the police and there had been quite a scuffle whilst they tried to stop me entering the house.

The Dutch lady took out a Violent Restraining Order against me so that I was not able to return to my house. As an aside, I later found out from a policeman that I was one of a long list of men who had been served such an order by the lady. He told me to forget her, as she wasn’t worth the trouble. She needed help, not me, he said! I have always felt very grateful towards that policeman—who I never saw again—as his comment made me feel a lot better.

I decided that it was time to try and tackle my problem, so signed up for a residential anger management course. The three-month course was for people involved in domestic violence or having parenting issues. Mind you, this didn’t help the real problem in my life—my out-of-control use of drugs and alcohol—as I now had a new bunch of friends on the course who could readily access drugs. In fact, my roommate was a methamphetamine dealer. So, during this period, I would complete a lesson or some related activity, and then drink and drug myself silly. Is this what one does to learn to manage one’s anger?

Thinking back now, no one I went to offered me help with my drug and alcohol problem. They might have offered me a roof over my head—and in some cases even a drink—but this wasn’t fixing anything. I was trapped in a vicious circle of addiction, now becoming increasingly isolated from all supports the culture of addiction had to offer. I couldn’t escape the consequences of my addiction. It became ever more clear to me that I needed help. But from where would it come?

5. A moment of clarity
Eventually, I ended up living in a caravan in Palm Beach, near Rockingham. I had sold my car for $50, which bought me two dope sticks. I got around on an old pushbike from the dump, but ended up selling that. I was just drinking and smoking dope to get blottoed, and often would wake up to find myself covered in vomit. The caravan, like me, was a mess. Eventually the dope ran out, then the money.

I contacted the Salvation Army in Rockingham and they said they could temporarily house me in a house in Mandurah. As far as I remember, I walked to Mandurah, carrying two black garbage bags containing my few possessions, $10 and a cask of wine.

Then came a moment in time I will never forget. I was walking through a small cemetery in Mandurah when I stopped to look at a gravestone and said to myself, ‘If I keep going with this destructive life, I will end up in a grave, or jail at the very least.’ At the time, I didn’t really care. It was a bit of a strange moment in my life, a turning point you could say.

I continued on to the Salvation Army where I met one of their workers, Paul. He saw straight through me. He knew I had a big problem and asked if I wanted to do something about it. In the ensuing quiet, you could hear a pin drop. Then, I just broke down and started crying uncontrollably. He put his hand on my shoulder and for the first time in a long while I felt safe. We spoke for a while and he gave me some options. Paul knew what I was going through. He had been there himself. No one had ever talked with me like this!

Paul took me to his place, fed me two meat pies and shared his story with me. He was over 30 years in recovery. He had been a real tear-away in his youth, but had turned his life around and was now helping other people. ‘This guy is an angel,’ I said to myself. He then drove to Perth and dropped me off at Fresh Start, Dr George O’Neill’s clinic. That was the day I started my long road to recovery. I was given a naltrexone implant [1] two days later and then driven up to Fresh Start’s residential Centre in Northam, which is about 100 kms north-east of Perth.

6. Residential rehab
I remember my first day in the rehab very well. I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing here? What have I got myself into?’ I was very, very nervous, and along with the shakes and anxiety from coming off the alcohol, I was a right mess. However nervous I felt though, I had made my mind up before the implant operation that I was not going to drink or drug again. I was determined to do something about my addictions.

I did all the necessary paper work and was shown around, before being taken to my room. I was relieved to find I had a room to myself. I then sat on the end of the bed with the two garbage bags that contained my possessions, and had a good cry. I started to think about my family and I realised how much I missed them. Later that day, I was allocated a night to cook dinner and assigned a daily chore.

I had been given the naltrexone implant to abolish my alcohol and drug cravings, and I have to say, I did not experience any cravings. However, I did experience other withdrawal symptoms, such as strong shakes, which lasted about three months. I was very depressed, nauseated and my body felt like a wreck for a similar period. I was prescribed Effexor, an SSRI antidepressant, and Seroquel [2], which is usually prescribed for bipolar depression. The latter drug made me sleep a lot in the early days. I remained on these drugs for about eight months.

I spent a good part of my first week in my room alone, reflecting on how I would lead a new life. I thought a lot about my family and the damage I had done to them. I hadn’t seen them in years and they didn’t even know if I was alive. As the drugs left my system, I started to feel the full force of my emotions. I began to realise my previous self-centeredness and was repulsed by this. It would have been easy to just give in to these feelings, or hide them with more substances, but something in the words and kindness of John and others, made me decide that I wanted to change. There was a future for me if I could change. I had to find another way of dealing with these emotions other than use alcohol and drugs.

There was no single factor that helped me in the early stages of recovery; rather it was a combination of factors. I really began to feel hope, hope that I could and would have a new life. I had been unable to relate to people for a long time, but I now started to interact with people and make new friends. I felt that I belonged. People cared about me and wanted to help me. I shared experiences, a vision and an understanding.

The Northam rehab does the 12-step programme, using the Recovery Bible. At the time, I thought, ‘The Bible? Oh no, Bible bashers!’ My first instinct was to run. However, that book helped save my life, and years later I still read it. It contains powerful stuff. Basically, the book is based on the 12-steps and is couched in modern language. It teaches principles of living in an easy-to-understand fashion, and it opened up my eyes to what I needed to do to get better.

Funny enough, I had a picture in my mind of some of the things that I needed and wanted to do with my life (formed in my first few days in the rehab), and when I first read the Recovery Bible it focused on these things and much more. It all made so much sense and was so clear. Although I was not a Christian at the time, the book became my manual for living and without my daily use of it I would never had made the progress with my recovery that I did. As an important aside, I became a Christian during my stay in the rehab and remain one today.

Counselling became a regular thing for me too. In the beginning, I did not like it at all. A guy I did not know was asking personal questions about my life. However, as the weeks went by, my attitude changed and I began to understand what was going on. The counselling helped me to get deep into myself and see and address personal issues of which I was unaware. My inner self started to change. I also wrote to my family a lot and began speaking to them regularly. Over time, I patched up the wrongs that I had done to them. I think this helped me, allowing me to forgive myself and accept the person I was.

I was touched by the kindness of people around me, staff and other patients. Peter and Gloria, who ran the rehab, treated me like a son. I was amazed that someone as important as George O’Neill always had time for me. Leon, another patient, and I cheered each other up, worked out in the gym and played golf together. This physical activity helped me to relax. It was also needed as I had put on a lot of weight in the rehab, going from 80 to 130 kgs, which I am sure was due to the medication [3].

As Christmas approached, I thought about my parents a lot. I really wanted to be with them for the holidays, but I didn’t have much money. One day, out of the blue, Peter and Gloria asked me if I wanted to go home for Christmas. I said I would love to, but couldn’t afford it. To my surprise they said, ‘That’s OK, we want to buy a ticket for you to go and see them.’ I just about fell over in shock and I couldn’t hold back the tears. Nobody had ever done anything like this for me in my life. I was so overwhelmed.

I was a nervous wreck on the plane going over—how would my family react to me, what was I going to say, how would my Gran react, not having seen me since I stole the money from her? I needn’t have worried. At the airport, the family came charging over—once they recognised the huge hulk in front of them—and the greeting was so overwhelming. When I got home, mum wouldn’t stop crying and on seeing me, Gran said, ‘I’m glad you’re back [from the world of addiction]. There’s no need to apologise, I know you’re sorry.’

I couldn’t have been happier staying for two weeks with my family. It was so good to see everybody. I had not seen them in six years and my brother was now 16 years old. There was a massive reunion of all the family (some over from the UK) and I even met family members I’d never met before. It was good to catch up with aunties, cousins, etc and for them to see that I was back on planet earth after my life in addiction.

At the same time, the trip was nerve-racking because I was in my old stomping ground, with all the bad memories. However, I got over this problem, in large part due to the great support from my family. When I got back to the rehab, I felt refreshed and more determined than ever to have a new life free of all substances,

I started volunteering over at the old hospital in Northam, which Fresh Start was converting. I got to know the project manager, Ian McClure, really well. Quite often, we would have a good chinwag while we were swinging sledgehammers or sitting down having a smoke. I found it really easy to communicate with Ian because, as I discovered, he was young and wild once too. He used to talk to me about his younger days and what he used to get up to. I was blown away at what I was hearing. He is such a nice guy, you would never expected him to have such a past.

In a way, Ian was my counsellor on the side. He was another person who helped me get deep stuff out of myself and better understand myself. It was like learning about the new me. Learning to live a life without substances. I felt that I had been incarcerated most of my life, but was now free. I hadn’t known how to do simple things, like pay a bill or make a bed, so had to learn how to do such things and develop a routine in life. Now I feel guilty if I don’t do things properly. I’m known as the neat-freak.

Ian was an important role model for me, someone I could look up to. He gave me confidence and hope, and I was able to ask him questions knowing he would give me sensible answers, providing information I could use in my life. He’s ‘been there’ and come back from a life of hell, so as far as I was concerned I could relate to, and trust, him. Paul was of course another important role model for me and I still to this day think the world of these two people. To me, role models are a key element in recovery.

I stayed in the Northam rehab for ten months. I had a second naltrexone implant halfway through my stay and a third when I left the rehab. I had to pay back the cost of these implants over a long period of time, but I value how much they helped me. Having an implant gave me time to get my head together without craving for drugs or alcohol, which was key to my recovery.

7. Moving on
I was lucky to be given a job by George and his colleagues straight after leaving rehab. I managed and ran the Fresh Start halfway house in Mirabooka for about four months. This residence gave outpatients of the clinic a place to live whilst they looked for a job and their own place. Whilst staying with us, they received counselling and other support services. I then did the same job at a Fresh Start House in Alexander Heights.

I was further down the recovery path than the people who stayed in these houses and was able to pass on my experiences and knowledge to help them on their own journey. When I saw people relapse, it made me realise how fragile early recovery can be, particularly when a person does not receive adequate support. I really appreciated where I was in my journey and how careful I needed to continue to be.

In 2008, I headed back to the Eastern States as I had been missing my family. I lived at home for a while, but then headed for Sydney to try and get a similar job to what I had before. However, there were no industrial cleaning jobs, so I left for the Hunter Valley to stay with a relative. I managed to get a contract job in the mines, working with abrasive sand cleaning. I travelled around a lot, made brilliant money and really enjoyed the work.

Lots of people around me were drinking excessively and smoking dope, and after a while I started smoking dope as well. It wasn’t much, but I began to feel that it was becoming a problem. I eventually tested positive for cannabis during a work drug-testing session and this was the last straw for me. I decided it was time to return to Fresh Start in Perth. During my time in the Easter States, I drank no alcohol at all… and have not done so since.

Looking back, I think my relapse into cannabis use actually made me stronger in my resolve never to drink and drug again, and to lead a better life. I learnt something else important at this time. When I went to the Eastern States, I thought that money was an important part of life. However, I now know that money did not bring me happiness and it has been a much less important driving force in my life since that time.

On my return, I had another implant and spent a couple of months in the rehab at Northam. I then moved back to Perth, completed a community services certificate and started working at Fresh Start as a full-time Patient Carer/Supervisor.

8. Getting Wired In
I first met David Clark when he gave a talk at Fresh Start at the end of 2010. I joined the Wired In To Recovery online community he was running, and we agreed to work on my Recovery Story. Over time, I started to learn more about the world of recovery from reading content on Wired In To Recovery and from talking with David. I also became increasingly aware of the shortcomings of the treatment system in Perth.

I had been seeing lots of people relapsing after coming out of our rehab, in large part because there was so little support in the community. I also saw few people actually recovering from their substance use problems; many were just passing continuously through the revolving door of treatment. Most treatment just seemed to be about medication. In an effort to improve matters, I set up a recovery support group in our service but for various reasons this did not take off.

The more I talked with David and read on his website, the more I realised that Western Australia (WA) was not providing the environment that is required for people to recover from addiction. I was becoming more and more excited about what I was reading, and when David suggested I visit some of the successful recovery centers in the UK, I jumped at the suggestion.

What a different world! And what a fantastic trip! In short, I was totally overwhelmed by what I saw: recovery that was oozing out of the walls of each community I visited; so many people in recovery in different places; people in recovery helping people recover; the feeling of hope and belonging in each centre; and I could go on and on. I couldn’t get over the welcome I received in each place I visited, the kindness I felt, and the positive feelings I got from people I had never met before. And I can tell you, the English, Scottish and Welsh love hugging!

The Recovery Walk I attended in Cardiff was amazing. A total of 1,500 people, many wearing purple t-shirts, walked through the streets of the Welsh capital, singing and chanting. There I was—dressed in a hat with bobbing corks, shorts and thongs, draped in an Australian flag—leading the march alongside Wynford Ellis Owen, Sarah Vaile and the Lord Mayor of Cardiff.

The Walk created a buzz better than I had got from any substance I had taken. I also attended the opening of The Living Room, a recovery centre developed by Wynford Ellis Owen in Cardiff, which was amazing. I learnt so much about recovery and being human from these visits in the UK. Thank you all!

I had a disappointing reaction to my visit when I returned to Australia. Management had expressed enthusiasm about me going to the UK and had asked that I bring back information about ‘what works’ in helping people recover from addiction.

However, when I returned, there was little interest in what I had seen or done. Now don’t get me wrong here. I wasn’t expecting people to be jumping and down about my experiences, but a little bit more curiosity wouldn’t have gone amiss. There was certainly no desire to hear about the recovery initiatives in the UK or whether more people were getting better over there. Instead, I got a comment like, ‘You don’t seem interested in us anymore since you got back.’

I was certainly interested in my organisation, just as much as ever. However, I wanted to help them do a better job in helping people get better, which is what I assumed they wanted to do. However, management seemed to want to continue to do things in the same way. I found this very frustrating and I continued to emphasise some of my real concerns. It’s ironic really, when we’re asking people with substance use problems to change, that treatment services—and I don’t just mean the one I worked at—and government departments seem incapable of changing.

I was also frustrated by the lack of community support in Perth for people trying to recover. The system seemed to be all about treatment rather than recovery, and medication rather than social supports. Naltrexone is not some sort of miracle cure. It is one thing that can help a person along their path to recovery. In my case, it helped give me some headspace (free of cravings) where I could focus on trying to learn to live without drugs and alcohol. The drug didn’t make me better. I made myself better, with the help of key people around me.

9. Reflecting back on my addiction and recovery
In my younger days, my addictive behaviours occurred with friends, in a culture of heavy drinking and drugging. However, over time, I changed such that a lot of my substance use occurred when I was alone. I moved around a lot as the consequences of my addiction became too problematical in each place. If I owed too much money, it was time to move on before trouble occurred. However, as time progressed it became more difficult to escape from my addiction-related consequences. I became more and more cornered, and more and more in pain.

I was always good at denying I had a problem. At first, I never considered I had a problem. Later, I knew I had a problem. After all, I was homeless and still drinking and drugging whilst wanting to stop. I had burnt all my bridges and had no friends to whom I could turn. Despite all this, I was still in some form of denial. Finally, my denial system broke down and I experienced a painful and overwhelming vision of the truth. I now hated myself for all I had done to my family and to others.

When I look back to that time in the cemetery and my first meeting with Paul, it was like I had some kind of emotional or spiritual experience that marked a turning point in my life. This conversion experience was not sufficient in itself to help me on the road to recovery, but it was a necessary element. I saw myself dead or in jail and this really frightened me. I was broken and I surrendered into Paul’s arms and to all those people who helped me in Perth and Northam.

Thinking back now, it was as if something had clicked deep inside my body. I just did not want to drink or do drugs anymore. I was just sick and tired of it all. I just knew that I could not take any more. I still cannot really explain it to myself to this day—it was almost as if someone had cast a spell on me—but enough was enough, and I was now committed to NOT using or drinking.

The environment that I found myself in—the residential rehab—was perfect for someone who had reached the stage at which I had arrived. I needed to learn to live a life without drugs, and learn to deal with all the things that life throws at you without succumbing to substances or to depression.

In the rehab, I began to feel hope and a sense of belonging. I began to believe that I could and would have a new life. I started to interact with people and make new friends, which reduced my isolation. I discovered that people cared about me and wanted to help me. I also started to learn how to live without using drugs and drinking as a coping mechanism.

As time moved on in this environment, I learnt to trust and respect again. I accepted what I had done in my past and forgave myself for all the hurt I had caused my family. I became more accepting of other people. I started to see the benefits of change. I began to see and feel a new me. I began to view the world, and the way I interacted in the world, in a different way. I felt a letting go of my old self, some sort of emotional release or purging of the spirit.

10. My new life
I moved back to the UK in December 2011, since I had fallen in love with a special lady whilst I was visiting Mossley, a town near Manchester. Bev and I were married in January, with my parents and brother coming over from Australia to the wedding. I am so lucky to have found someone so beautiful, on the inside as well as the outside. And I have my recovery to thank for helping bring Bev and I together, as without that, I would have never visited Mossley!

I am learning more about life and myself every day, so I consider that I am still recovering, rather than being recovered. For example, I have been learning to deal with my impatience and frustration with the whole visa process in the UK, which had many hiccups along the way due to administrative errors. I am learning to deal with my faulty thinking and inappropriate emotions with new techniques and other helpful information that I find on the internet. My support network has also been invaluable.

My dog Jessie was shipped over from Australia and joined our two other dogs and one cat. Life is a little different in the UK compared to Australia, but I am having a great time with my new family. I am so enjoying my recovery journey; it has its ups and downs, but doesn’t everything. To be able to wake up each morning clear-headed, to be able to smell the early-morning fresh air, to hear the birds chirping, to smell the roses… to take in everything that I used to ignore or take for granted is such a blessing. I’m living a life I never thought was possible.

Thank you to all the people who have helped me to where I am today.

> You can read Adam’s updated story in Our Recovery Stories: Journeys From Drug and Alcohol Addiction, due out as an eBook in late March, 2021.