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 leads him to the UK where he marries. His life spirals out of control after traumatic experiences, before he continues on his recovery journey and moves back to the other side of the world. (11,648 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.’ Adam Brookes

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. Staff there 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 Paul 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. I now know that weight gain is a side effect of Seroquel administration. 

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.[This changes as the second part of Adam’s Story will show.]

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

Teaching David’s son Sam to surf.

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!

Alongside Wynford Ellis Owen.

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.

Nine Years On (November 2020)

1. A new life

I moved back to the UK in December 2011 to be with someone I had fallen in love with during my earlier stay there. Bev and I were married in January 2012, with my parents and brother coming over from Australia for the wedding. I was then caught up in the UK visa application process for a year as a result of administrative errors slowing things down. The whole process was very frustrating, particularly as I was not allowed to work. 

In the first year of our marriage, my relationship with Bev deteriorated badly. I had rushed into the relationship and didn’t know enough about Bev before getting married. Over time, I learnt that she was very controlling. She complained a lot about things I wanted to do or had done. She wanted me to be there for her all the time, which meant I was becoming isolated from other people. I knew this was not good for me, and I was aware that I needed to link up with AA. 

I started attending AA once a week and as a result made some friends, started to build a support network, and got an AA sponsor. However, I knew I needed to do more than one meeting a week and therefore started attending three times a week. Bev soon started complaining, saying I was never at home. This was contrary to reality, as I was home most of the time due to not being able to work. And we spent a lot of time together, as she was working mainly from home.

I also found out that Bev was spending time with an old boyfriend smoking cannabis. I had no idea she was a cannabis user until after we were married. I then started to find little straws around the house. I didn’t cotton on at first, but later wondered what they were being used for. I then realised they weren’t for drinks. They were being used to snort cocaine. What had I walked into? 

The drug-taking stopped when Bev realised that she was pregnant in the second half of 2012. I was overjoyed when I heard the news. A scan later revealed that we were to have twins.

My work visa was granted early in 2013 and I obtained a job as a drug and alcohol treatment practitioner in the criminal justice system. I was excited and couldn’t wait to start work. Bev complained about me getting the job. The AA meetings became even more important to me, given all what was happening at home. It was a place where I could lay my shit on the table, without being judged. A place to which I could escape the constant complaining I was hearing at home in the evenings and weekends. 

As Bev’s pregnancy progressed, I tried to do all I could to make her comfortable. However, it was hard work, very hard work. She became more controlling and her complaints intensified. Arguments would break out. 

I decided that I had to stop attending AA, just to keep the peace at home. Peace wasn’t going to happen any other way. Peace was needed with new arrivals due. I knew what I was risking when I stopped attending AA. But I just wanted her to be happy, even if it meant neglecting myself.

I was ecstatic when Bev gave birth to our two beautiful girls in April 2013. It was an experience I will never ever forget. I remember holding Olivia just after she was born and suddenly Emily was born. It felt like the time it takes to click a finger, but in fact 20 minutes had passed. That day was the first time in my adult life that all my worries, all my past history, just disappeared. Life was bliss.

Life now became very busy, as you would expect with twins, and it took its toll on both of us. I only had a week’s paternity leave, during which time I did as much as I could. Once I was back at work, I’d try and take the pressure off Bev when I returned home. However, I always seemed to be doing or saying something wrong as far as Bev was concerned. I kept trying, but there didn’t seem to be any time out from the complaints. The continual complaints led to more and more arguments 

Soon after stopping AA, some of my old bad behaviours started to return. I started eating lots of chocolate, crisps and other ‘bad’ foods in an attempt to make myself feel better. My bag was soon full of empty junk-food wrappers. I blew out to about 130kgs from 110 kgs. However, I wasn’t feeling any better in myself. And I was still in trouble with Bev. 

In early 2014, my GP told me I was carrying excessive weight. I decided I had to do something to alleviate the problem. I improved my eating habits. I started to do a lot of running, heading out twice a day, wind, rain or snow. With or without our dogs. The weight started falling off. Although I felt good when running, it didn’t stop the complaining at home, so I stayed unhappy most of the time. 

Four months after starting to run, I developed shin splints. However, I continued to run. Eventually, I realised that I needed a couple of days off a week. When I started to feel guilty on these two days, I knew that I had developed a new problem… an addiction to running! Running was like a drug. I needed that endorphin hit from pounding the roads.

In 2014, I had an operation on an arthritic wrist. I was prescribed with codeine to deal with the pain. Over time, I became addicted to the drug. I obtained the drug from nurses where I worked or I blagged it from doctors. The pain killer stopped me feeling, stopped the emotional turmoil in my head from everything bad that has happening in my life. I reckon I was addicted to codeine within a week. I would continue to periodically binge on codeine for several weeks on and off for nearly five years. 

I worked in a prison with prolific offenders who were wrapped up in the world of drugs and alcohol and continually rotating through the criminal justice system. At first, I found the job interesting and exciting. I thought I could make a difference. However, the job gradually wore me down and it became hard work and stressful. I’d put a lot of emotional energy into people, only to see them go back into the community and commit more crime, relapse into drinking and/or using, and even die. 

I started working with sex offenders and they were often open about what they had done in the past. It was often a horrific experience listening to them. This work brought up a lot of old baggage for me. Historical stuff. It really took its toll on me over the next year.

2. Old and new traumatic experiences

I was raped as a kid. It was something I had never talked about it to anyone. I thought I’d buried this horrendous happening, but working with sex offenders brought it all back up. I told Bev after the memory of the rape resurfaced. I told her that I was ‘gagged and bagged’ by a couple of older teenagers when I was 12 years old. Bev was shocked and tried to help, but there was only so much she could do.

When this trauma resurfaced, it just added to the mix of bad things that were happening to me—the controlling relationship with Bev, the addictive behaviours, the social isolation (and no AA), and the stress at work. I left the prison job mid-2016, in an attempt to reduce the turmoil that was circulating in my head and impacting on my wellbeing.

Bev suggested that I needed some help, so I turned to a male rape victim charity called ‘Survivors Manchester’. I did 12 sessions of Healing Steps work with a trauma therapist. I was diagnosed with PTSD and all sorts of other shit. The sessions with the trauma therapist helped me with the trauma and I am grateful for that help. However, I was still having to deal with the other problems in my life. The only happiness I had were my two girls, particularly the time I spent with them without being nagged by Bev.

When I started a new job as a drug and alcohol practitioner in the community in mid-2016, I thought that things would get better. I was all right for a month or two, but I then slipped back into those old patterns of behaviour. The secret eating and excessive exercise that I had once got under control were now resurfacing. I became overly conscious of what I looked like and what other people thought. I started to experience some paranoia. I had periods of binging on codeine. It was so easy getting hold of the drug, as it is sold over-the counter in the UK. As the dose was lower than what I could get from the doctor, I just bought twice as much.

I remember vividly the day I started drinking again, Christmas Day 2016. Bev and her parents and the kids were having a good time in the living room—the adults drinking—while I was washing up the dishes from the meal I had made. It was snowing outside. There was a litre bottle of gin on the counter and I knew exactly what was going to happen. I picked it up and had a drink. It was like looking down the barrel of a shotgun. The time is imprinted on my brain even today… 21.02. 

As soon I had that drink, I was plotting the next one. Just like that. I headed off to the off-licence to get some ‘milk’ and came back with a bottle of gin. I topped up their bottle, stashed my bottle, drank my bottle, went back to their bottle. I woke up next morning, headed down the off-licence… 

I continued drinking, hiding it from Bev. One night, on the 16 of February 2017, I made Bev a nice hot bath. As soon as she got in, I got stuck into the vodka. She came down and asked if I had been drinking. I denied it, but she told me to breathe on her. She smelt my breath and that was it. She packed up the girls and left. I ended up drinking myself stupid over the next few days, got into a fight in a pub, police turned up on my doorstep, and I ended up in hospital. When I arrived back from the hospital, the door locks were changed, and that was that. I was out. That was the last time I saw my children. 

I stayed in a supported accommodation for a couple of weeks before moving into my current flat. I tried to clean myself up, but I was still drinking on and off. Not seeing my children was heart-breaking.

At the end of September 2017, I was arrested. When I asked the police officers why I was being arrested, I was told that Bev had reported that I had been sexually abusing one of our girls. I was absolutely speechless! How could anyone make such a serious false allegation? The police locked me up, interviewed me, and then released me on bail. I was in a state of total shock. 

Joe, neighbour and close friend.

However, I should say that the police were pretty good at the time. In fact, a police sergeant said to me, ‘I know you haven’t done this, but there is a process we have to go through.’ The police took my DNA, phone and computer. I was asked whether I wanted a lawyer and I said no, as there was nothing I had to defend myself about. I had done nothing wrong. The allegations were untrue. Bev had put together an elaborate set of lies.

If I thought I had been traumatised by the historical stuff, that was nothing to how traumatised I was now. I cannot begin to say how I felt to have had such allegations made against me. I told my neighbour, who was a good friend, what had happened and he was gobsmacked. He told me not to ‘pick up’. However, given my current state, the only way I could cope was to drink. My drinking went to a new level over the next two weeks. Eventually, I reached out to my friend and connected with AA again. 

3. Heading home

I decided I needed to spend some time in Australia. I wanted to get some help from Fresh Start, George O’Neill’s addiction treatment agency in Perth that had helped me earlier. I also wanted to spend time with two of my best mates, Michael (of Michael’s Story) and David (the book author). Thinking back now, I realised I didn’t know what to do anymore, given the situation I was in. My natural instinct was to run.  

The only trouble was that I was on bail and the police had my passport and visa. As my passport was due for renewal, I asked an officer at the police station if I could go down to London to get it renewed. She agreed and handed me back my passport and visa. I was obviously not classed as high risk. 

I went to the Australian High Commission and filled in the application forms. I spent the rest of the day in London, planning to return on the last train. However, when I went to get on the train, I realised that my phone, on which I had my ticket, had gone flat. The ticket officer would not let me on the train! I caught a train to somewhere—I cannot remember where now—and after trying to sleep on a platform seat, I decided to catch a taxi home. It cost me an arm and a leg. And taught me a lesson—don’t spend most of the day drinking. 

Adam, Michael and David

I told my solicitor, who a friend had introduced me to, that I was returning to Australia for a holiday. I assured her that I would be back. I drank on the flight back in November 2017 and arrived at the airport to find David, Michael and a worker from Fresh Start waiting in Arrivals. 

Sadly, I never really got any help from Fresh Start, despite paying the agency. I received another naltrexone implant and was put out in a house in the northern suburbs. The only person in Fresh Start who really spoke to me was George O’Neill. I then asked to be sent to the rehab in Northam, but the experience there was no better. I decided to leave. I called my parents and said I was coming home. I did spend some quality time with Michael and David in Perth and that was wonderful.

Whilst I was at home with my parents, I realised that I knew what I needed to do to get better. I had to get my shit together, and go back and fight for my children. I had to prove that I did not do what Bev had claimed. I had to go back to where I had good friends and support. Mind you, I was glad I had come home and got those hugs from my Mum. And explained to my parents what was going on. They were shocked. 

4. Back and forth

One of the first things I did after returning to Manchester, was to give up my job as a drug and alcohol treatment practitioner. It was time to move on. I needed a break from helping other people deal with their problems. I had enough of my own. I got a job as a drainage service engineer, similar to what I had previously done in Australia years before. I had arrived back just before my bail hearing was due. Bail was extended at this hearing.

The police eventually dropped the case against me. However, they did not tell me that the case had been dropped. I only learnt this fact when I received a letter from a bailiff in April 2018, along with a non-molestation order stating that I was to go nowhere near my children for the next 12 months. 

The letter stated that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to prosecute me, due to lack of evidence and the story not adding up. From reading the court order, it was quite clear that Bev had used the same story for the Family Court that she had concocted for the police, in order to get the order preventing me seeing the children made. She also said that I used to come home and talk about my work with sex offenders, and she argued that once someone had been raped they were going to do it to someone else. I was greatly relieved that the case was dropped, but devastated by news of the court order. 

Although I wasn’t drinking, I was still using codeine in a problematic manner to help me deal with my thoughts and emotions. I entered another relationship thinking that would help me, feeling loved and nurtured, and loving someone back. That didn’t work. You can’t love anyone else until you love yourself. 

They were all hard lessons to learn, but they were lessons that helped me get to where I am today. No person, place or thing would make happy, only I could do that. I thought I was all right because I wasn’t drinking. But I wasn’t all right. And I was masking my problems by using copious amounts of codeine. The person I was with turned out to be another controller, but I didn’t seem to care because I just wanted to be loved. The distorted thinking I had in my head is hard to believe now. But I was just so messed up.

The relationship ended late in December 2019. Three days later I tried to kill myself by taking three boxes of codeine and drinking a bottle of gin. I woke up cursing God. I was obviously meant to live. From that moment, I began a new journey. 

I flew back to Australia on the 2nd of January 2020, to see my parents and to sort myself out. I just left my job and apartment in the UK. I didn’t intend to return. When I arrived back at my parents’ place, I was beaten. Tail between my legs, ill and detoxing. 

Over the next couple of weeks, the fog gradually lifted. Things started clicking. I wasted little time in connecting with AA and my new friends arranged transport for me to attend Fellowship meetings. It was like I had never left. I was taken to an AA event in Melbourne, which is about a nine-hour drive from Dapto, and didn’t have to pay for anything. I started to realise that I was meant to live, not to die.

It was special being back with my family and relatives. Even though there was drinking going on around me, I had no urge to drink. I felt safe; I was in a safe place. The people there reminded me that if I continued living like I had been doing, I would be dead. They told me that I was worth much more than that. 

One day, I had a deeply-moving experience on the back veranda of my parents’ house. Call it a spiritual moment, or whatever. I remember it as clear as a bell. I suddenly felt goosebumps and this overwhelming feeling that ‘everything was going to be all right’. I just shut my eyes and prayed. To what, I don’t know or even care. It was the first time that I truly handed my life over to something else other than me. A good idea, as I certainly can’t run the ‘show’! I handed things over to my Higher Power. I guess it was God, but I don’t really know. It is someone or something outside of me.

I began to realise that I had lived with a massive spiritual malady for a long time. I needed a Higher Power in my life. I always thought I had one, but I don’t think I ever did. I certainly didn’t put my trust in it, if I did. This might all sound weird, but all I can say is that my beliefs seem to be working. And that is what matters.

I eventually decided to return to the UK, although I wasn’t quite sure why I was going back. Presumably, to fight to see my children again. I had not seen them for three years. 

I left Australia on the 6th of March. On the flight back home, I realised that I wasn’t strong enough for this fight. I realised that I would always struggle to win such a battle, against a family that had money to keep fighting when I didn’t have the income to do the same. And an ex-wife who was willing to lie in the way she had done to date. No doubt she would have poisoned the girls’ minds against me, so even if I won a case, the girls could end up being hurt emotionally. I rationalised that maybe it was better to save them that distress.

I also realised that If I kept fighting, I could destroy the recovery journey I was now on. My recovery had to come first. As my trip back to the UK continued, I realised that I had to detach with love. I rationalised that my girls would grow up and eventually want to know who their father was. They would get in touch if they wanted.

5. Covid lockdown

I arrived back in the UK to find that I still had my apartment. I got my job back, luckily, and was very grateful for this. I got back into the swing of things at work and was travelling around the country with the job. I reconnected with my AA buddies. 

And then the Covid lockdown occurred, on the 23rd of March, just over two weeks after my return to the UK. The government imposed a stay-at-home order, banning all non-essential travel and contact with people outside one’s home. My company laid me off and I was left thinking, ‘What on earth am I going to do?’ All I had for support was my neighbour in the same apartment block. I was not in a good place. 

Two weeks after the lockdown started, I joined my first AA Zoom meeting, a 24-hour meeting from New Zealand. I immediately got stuck into these AA Zoom meetings, spending a good deal of time on my computer. I was hosting and chairing meetings, ‘meeting and greeting’, and being ‘on patrol’ to deal with ‘invaders’ who crashed the meetings to show pornographic material or private parts of their body. My service gave me a sense of purpose, achievement and responsibility. It gave me a routine and, along with my exercise, really helped me. I also got to meet a lot of new people around the world. I don’t know how I got through financially, but I did.

The lockdown lasted about seven weeks. I was called back to work in mid-May, which meant my time with AA on Zoom was now greatly reduced. However, I am eternally grateful that I was able to spend so much time in AA meetings on Zoom during the lockdown. If I hadn’t had those Zoom meetings at that particular time, I don’t know where I’d be today. I may not be a social butterfly and I tend to isolate at times, but I know I need human contact. I need to feel I belong. These things are essential for my wellbeing.

It was good to be back at work, to be interacting with people again in the real world. I’m still in AA Zoom meetings, as none of the real-world local groups are running. It’s good to have those meetings, as they give me a chance to share my experiences, say how long I’ve been sober, talk about my plans, and what I’ve done wrong. As long as I can do that, then I’m happy and my recovery is strong. Reflecting now, I don’t miss the real-world meetings. It’s weird, but I actually prefer the Zoom meetings, particularly when I can be one-on-one with someone.  

6. Life today

What’s good for me today? Keeping it simple, being honest and being kind. If I’ve got shit on my mind then just share and talk about it. I’m not ashamed of myself anymore, but I know I need to keep communicating with other people. If I don’t do that, then I know that things can go to shit. I also need to help other people. I don’t want other people to get into the situations I have been in, and make the mistakes I have made. Being back at work and continuing to help other people gets me out of myself. I don’t have time to think bad of myself. 

Today, I’m all right. I’m a little depressed and sad, but I’m all right. I can smile, as I’m alive. It can be a good world, or it can be an ugly world. It depends on how you want to perceive it. 

What does it mean telling my Story? To be honest with you, I didn’t think I would be alive today. Now, I know that it doesn’t matter how old you are, or what you’ve done in your life, you can change. If anyone told me I couldn’t change, the first thing I would do now is put my middle finger up. People do change. It’s a matter of deciding that you want to change and then doing the work. If sharing my Story prevents someone making the mistakes I’ve made… If it inspires someone on that journey of change… then that’s great!

Recovery is visible and the more people out there who see it, the better. ‘I want what he’s got’—that’s how it works. I’m just one of millions around the world who have taken that recovery journey. 

< Adam’s Recovery Story (pdf document)

< Welcome Home Adam

My blog post above is a 2021 update to Adam’s Story. We’ll be updating his inspirational Story further in the near future.