Theresa’s Story: Wired In To Recovery

Here is some powerful writing from Theresa, who started blogging about her recovery on our online community Wired In To Recovery in May, 2010. Here are her first two posts:

Me (6th May, 2010)
I am 17 weeks, today, into Recovery from alcohol addiction. I have found that getting into Recovery is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It is also the thing I am most proud of because of the unbelievable physical and mental effort it has taken to get this far.

The fear of withdrawal and the absolute belief that I would be unable to cope without drink made me believe for a very long time, that a drunken haze would be my life until I became so distraught and heartbroken that I ended it (which I almost did) or my body just gave up the fight.

But now? Now I have something I never thought could exist in a hopeless wreck like me, and that is hope. I. Me. Theresa. Is in Recovery and has been sober for over four months! Well slap my thigh and call me Norman!!! Haha! I am dry!

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Michael Scott: 45 Years Recovery Today

What a day for a very special man here in Canning Vale, Perth, Western Australia. My good friend Michael Scott is celebrating his 45th Recovery Birthday. A wonderful achievement! Congratulations, Michael. I remember vividly Michael’s description of his last drink, written ten years ago in his Recovery Story The Power of Empathy and Compassion.

‘I made the decision to stop drinking on April 10th, 1978, three years after my parents had died. My last drinking session took place at the Shenton Park Hotel. I finished my last drink and slammed the glass down, saying to myself that this was it! ‘No more drinking!’ I have not had a drop of alcohol since then.

I walked home and called an ambulance, saying that I had an alcohol problem and needed help.  The ambulance took me to Sir Charles Gardner Hospital where a doctor started shaking his head in dismay (and probably disgust) at the sight of his wretched-looking patient. I was terribly thin (bordering on anorexic), scruffy, dirty and smelt badly. He referred me to the D20 psychiatry ward at Charlie Gardner’s and I spent a night in this infamous facility.

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Adam’s Story: A Moment of Clarity

What’s it like when you reach that point when you say, “Enough is enough, I have to change.” And you do change! The moment of clarity that triggers the journey to recovery. Here’s what my close friend Adam had to say in his Recovery Story.

‘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.

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My Journey: Part 7. The Former Heroin Addict Who Helped Change My Life

When I first met Natalie back in 2000, I didn’t realise that she would play a role in my decision to change career from neuroscientist to addiction recovery advocate, researcher and educator. Her words also contributed to my decision to write a collection of Recovery Stories. Thank you, Natalie. (1,730 words)

I remember vividly to this day Natalie saying to me back in 2000 that if I wanted to help people overcome serious substance use problems, I needed to start telling stories of people finding recovery.

She also emphasised to me that when your life has fallen apart and you are physically and mentally unwell, you have become isolated in your addiction, feel shame and disgust about yourself, and know that others think of you as nothing more than a ‘worthless junkie’, you give up on trying to change. It’s all too difficult; you see no escape. The easiest thing to do is to kill all the pain with more heroin, or more drink. 

The conversations I had with Natalie have always stuck in my mind. They have had an enormous impact on me even today, over 23 years later.

I had spent all those years as a neuroscientist trying to understand brain function and its role in addiction and had never considered such things as those described by Natalie and other recovering addicts. That people would continue to use heroin use because they had no hope and saw no escape (no-one else they knew had escaped), and so they could kill the shame and guilt they felt, and the feelings they experienced from knowing their life had fallen apart. 

I asked Natalie whether we could tell her story. She agreed to be interviewed by Becky Hancock, a former psychology student of mine who was now working with me on the Welsh Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund (DATF) evaluation at the time. That Story, first ‘told’ by Becky, has appeared in various forms over the years, including in the first and second editions of Drink and Drugs News. Here is a summary of part of Natalie’s Story.

When Natalie was eleven years old and having just moved to a city from the countryside, her father was arrested for a drug offence and eventually sentenced to 22 years in prison. The impact of this and related events on this young girl’s social and emotional wellbeing must have been substantial.

‘I couldn’t understand what was going on. I was having to go to a new school not knowing anyone, but feeling that everyone knew about what had happened to my family. Every single day, I was extremely anxious about someone finding out that I was the daughter of the ‘evil drug smuggler’ who was written about on the front page of newspapers. It was one of the biggest drug busts in the country at that time, and the papers kept saying that my Dad was the evil mastermind behind the whole operation. To me, my Dad wasn’t evil!

I got so anxious that I used to wake up and pray every morning that no one would mention my Dad or anything about prisons. The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life was to enter my classroom, walk to the back, and sit down at my desk, not knowing who knew what and whether anyone would say anything. As it turned out, nothing was ever said, but I wasn’t to know that then.’

Natalie’s anxiety did not lessen over the next two years. She would experience what she would later learn were panic attacks when a teacher would say something like, ‘We’re going to be discussing a case that happened some time ago…’

In addition, Natalie had to regularly visit her Dad in prison whilst he was on remand over a two-year period. She had to live through two trials, the first being abandoned just prior to completion. She regularly visited her Dad in a prison on the other side of the country once he was sentenced. The nature of these visits was not easy. Natalie missed her Dad and could not come to terms with the media’s portrayal of him.

When she was fourteen, Natalie started to hang out with people who were a little wilder than her previous friends. She started to smoke cigarettes and cannabis, and skip school. For the first time in years, she started to fit in somewhere. The cannabis helped her deal with her ongoing emotional pain.

She became pregnant and had a son (Joshua) when she was sixteen. The father had disappeared by the time of Joshua’s birth. Natalie then started using amphetamines and drinking alcohol more. She started going out with a dealer (John) who ended up going to prison. 

Natalie’s Dad was released from prison early, when she was nineteen years old. When he came home, he was very different to the man she remembered. After about a year, the family discovered that Dad had picked up a heroin habit in prison. He started dealing heroin to Natalie’s boyfriend John, who had also gotten a heroin habit whilst in prison. Not long after, she started using heroin. 

The family dynamic was now all over the place. Natalie’s Mum was struggling with the situation—no wonder, with her husband and oldest daughter addicted to heroin, another daughter playing up, and a grandchild to look after. All those promises about being a happy family after Dad’s release had not come to fruition.

Is it any surprise that Natalie turned to regular heroin use given all that previously happened to her, life as it was at the current time, and once she had experienced the psychological pain-killing effects of the drug? Here are some excerpts from Natalie’s original Recovery Story, I Didn’t Plan To Be An Addict. The first quote relates to a time after she had started using heroin regularly:

‘At this time, I was completely lost. I remember thinking, ‘I’m scared’, but I couldn’t see a way out. I felt completely trapped. I absolutely hated using gear because of what it was doing. I felt totally controlled by John and heroin. My heroin use was taking its toll on my body. I collapsed twice from using too much, once in front of Joshua [Natalie’s son]….

I was too afraid to go to the doctor for help because I thought they would take Joshua off me. Even though I was addicted to drugs and they were my priority, I still loved my son and no way did I want to lose him….’ 

The following quotes are from the time Natalie was attending her treatment service:

‘When I went for my appointment, I was offered a place on the pre-treatment programme. The treatment agency worker kept saying to me, ‘You’ll do this, kid’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, do you really think so!?’ I really honestly couldn’t believe him. I just didn’t think I would be able to get out of my situation….’

‘… I was still using heroin when I first attended the agency. There were about fifteen other treatment agency clients in my first group session, one of whom was an ex-heroin user who had been clean for about 16 years. She came over to talk to me and I was in awe. She had done exactly what I was doing and she had gotten through it. It was a Light Bulb Moment. From that moment on, I didn’t feel so alone. For the first time, I was with a group of people who understood me and my addiction, and I understood and related to them and with what they were saying.

You have to realise my state of thinking prior to that first group meeting in the treatment agency. Once I had become addicted to heroin, I did not see that there was any alternative to the life I was living. I didn’t know anyone who had overcome heroin addiction. I had never heard of anyone who had done so. I could find no information on the internet on how to give up using the drug. That was it! I just had to carry on doing what I was doing….’

‘… As time passed, being at the agency and attending NA meetings felt fantastic. They were the right places for me. I actually felt like I belonged. It was really nice having something in common with other people. I also started to understand my addiction, and came to realise that my behaviour was part of my illness.…’

‘… One of the hardest things to deal with was the mental frustration. I had so many things going around my head and I was really scared. I had tried to change so many times before and I was battling with thoughts that I was going to mess up again. I had all these feelings rushing around my head, but I didn’t realise what they were because I had suppressed them for so long with heroin.

I can remember not being able to distinguish between feelings of hurt and anger. My counsellor really helped me to re-learn what different feelings stood for, which really helped. The hardest thing was having to face up to my past problems and seeing the damage I had caused to myself and others by taking drugs. I didn’t want to face up to the bad things that had happened and that I’d done. It was so difficult trying to sort all of that out raw, without using drugs to cope….’

‘… The treatment agency also helped me to re-build the relationship with my son, which had been damaged over the years. When I first approached the agency, I didn’t know how to be a mother.…’

‘… Whilst in treatment, I began to do non-vocational courses (e.g. pottery and dress making) and help out at the local school. This allowed me to mix with people who were not addicts. This was a big step, because I had become quite isolated from ‘normal’ people. It was also the first time that I had ever completed a course.’

Natalie is now over twenty years into her recovery. You can read her full Story here.

Many people with a serious substance use problem know what they want—a valued and meaningful life without drugs. They just do not know how to achieve what they want, and they lack the internal and external resources to take the journey to recovery and the life they want. 

Ellie’s Recovery Story, ‘Come With Me’: I Am Not Anonymous

Ellie’s Recovery Story is from the excellent I Am Not Anonymous website, Kate King and Tom Goris. This website contains over 170 Recovery Stories… no you haven’t read wrong! A simply amazing piece of work. Congrats to Kate and Tom and all the contributors. [NB. It looks like the website may have been last updated in 2015 – and the introductory film did not work for me – but the Stories are as relevant today as they were then.

‘When I was drinking, my life was ruled by shame.  It’s exhausting, living a double life. On the outside I was a put-together, active, intelligent woman.  I made sure my outside always looked okay, so nobody would look too closely at what was really going on, at my dirty secret.

Inside, I was a crumbling mess.  I felt less-than, unworthy and insecure.  I strove for perfection in all things, which of course is unattainable, and this left me feeling empty and ashamed.

I drank to fill the cracks, the emptiness.  I drank to numb out, escape.  I drank to feel okay with myself.  I found myself in my late thirties, a shell of a person, hollow and feeling desperately alone, even though I had a beautiful family, a job, and people who loved me.

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Recovery Stories on Website Updated

Our Recovery Stories BookThe Recovery Stories on this website were written in 2012, ready for our launch in 2013. Some of these Stories were written by the person, whilst others I wrote after interviewing the person (or people) on a number of occasions. In these latter cases, the stories went back and forth across the world, as most involved people lived in the UK and I had moved to Australia.

In 2020, I decided that it would be good to update the stories—I was still in touch with most of the people. Most agreed to the update which would appear in my 2021 eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys From Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

I recently decided to add these updates to each Story onto the website, along with a pdf document of each full Story. Please check out the Stories and feel free to pass around the pdf documents. I believe each of these Stories is inspirational and can teach us a lot about addiction, recovery and treatment.

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Natalie’s Recovery Story: ‘I Didn’t Plan To Be An Addict’

Treatment staff and her peers help Natalie find a path to recovery from heroin addiction. A confronting situation years later, when she is a treatment practitioner, helps Natalie realise that she is still traumatised from her childhood experiences. A second recovery journey begins. (10,923 words)

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Michael’s Recovery Story: ‘The Power of Empathy and Compassion’

Michael followed both his parents into a life of dependent drinking, but he will be 45 years sober on 10 April 2023. He describes his recovery journey, his work as a drug and alcohol counsellor, and his part-time role in ‘retirement’. (7,316 words)

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Kevin and Kerry’s Recovery Story: ‘A Family’s Journey’, Part 1

Mother and son describe Kevin’s heroin and amphetamine addiction, and related activities, and how they impacted on Kevin and the family and as a whole. (7,376 words)

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Kevin and Kerry’s Recovery Story: ‘A Family’s Journey’, Part 2

Kevin’s hospitalisation with septicaemia acts as a turning point and a process of recovery begins for the family as a whole. (6,933 words)

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Kevan’s Recovery Story: ‘He’s a Loser and Will Never Be Any Good’

After 25 years of problem drinking and eight years in and out of psychiatric hospitals, Kevan developed NERAF (Northern Engagement into Recovery from Addiction), which eventually had nearly 100 staff and volunteers. (11,945 words)

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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)

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Tim’s Story: ‘Doctor in Recovery’

As Tim found out, having a medical degree offers no protection against addiction, nor from the hard work that is required to change oneself as a key part of the recovery journey. (7,135 words)

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Ian and Irene’s Story, ‘Living Through Our Son’s Addiction and Death: Our Journey to Recovery’

After losing their son Robin to a heroin overdose, Ian and Irene set up CPSG (Carer and Parent Support Gloucestershire) to help family members avoid some of the problems they experienced. (5,469 words)

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Iain’s Recovery Story: ‘This is Me’

A treatment agency helped Iain detox from the methadone that was prescribed for his heroin addiction. College, employment, recreational activities and romance facilitated Iain’s recovery. (9,237 words)

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Sapphire’s Recovery Story: ‘It Should All Be About the Person’

Things went well when Sapphire was intimately involved in decisions about her methadone-based treatment, but poorly when professionals took sole control. (7,631 words)

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Brad’s Recovery Story: ‘A Life Beyond My Wildest Dreams’

Following a life of crime, fighting and drinking, Brad started his recovery journey after being told that alcohol wasn’t his problem—it was him! He later had an experience that he could only describe as a spiritual awakening. (14,961 words)

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Anna’s Recovery Story: ‘Should I or Shouldn’t I?’

Through his heroin addiction and recovery, Anna’s brother has taught her so much about life, including the most valuable lesson she could ever learn—you can get through anything. (4,273 words)

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Beth’s Recovery Story: ‘Becoming Beth’

A fullly-fledged dependent drinker by age nineteen, Beth has gone on to become a recovery coach and writer in order to help other people escape from addiction. (9,230 words)

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Paul’s Recovery Story: ‘Doctor Knows Best’

After years of taking opiates whilst working as a medical doctor, Paul has become a new person through residential treatment, the 12-step programme, and a good deal of work on himself. (11,760 words)

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