Reprinted from "Workplace: Transitions" issue of Visions Journal, 2016, 11 (3), pp. 17-19
I will start by saying that I had a very happy childhood. I grew up next to a park, was very active in sports, and had a large circle of friends—many of whom I still see to this day. Since I was young, two things have always played a big part in my life: sports—mainly soccer and hockey—and music. Having older brothers and sisters, I was introduced to rock n' roll at an early age.
My sister, whom I love dearly, took me to Seattle to see the Who when I was 10 years old. That was the first time I was witness to a certain side of life that really grabbed my interest. There was long hair, crazy dancing and people smoking drugs.
In my early teens, though I still played sports daily, I started to get into more trouble in school, and my grades began to slip. I wouldn't say I was a bad kid. I never did anything really mean. I just enjoyed having fun—and for me, school wasn't fun.
The summer after Grade 9, I tried smoking weed. I liked it, and by the middle of Grade 10, my friends and I were smoking regularly. In Grade 10, I had my first psychedelic experience on LSD. I enjoyed it immediately. It just felt right somehow—it suited my personality and it was a big part of the music scene that interested me at the time.
Fast-forward to graduation: I was a member of a rock band, and I was attending a lot of music concerts. My best friends and I used lots of drugs, still mainly weed and LSD, although by then I had tried cocaine a few times. When I was about 20, one friend and I started separating ourselves a bit from the crowd, not really intentionally but because we both had a stronger desire to party. The opportunity to use harder drugs presented itself: my friend had an older brother who was a dealer, and he introduced us to certain things—mainly more cocaine, crack and heroin.
At first I didn't really want to get too involved, but eventually those harder drugs reeled me in, and I found myself experiencing the physical aspects of dependency—like withdrawal when I didn't get my fix. I didn't like that feeling; I distanced myself from my friend a bit, and I was able to stop using—for a while.
But a few years later, when I was working my first full-time day job, got my own place and had a regular disposable income, I found myself falling back into a pattern of using heroin: with my old connections, it was all too easy for me to make that phone call and get that delivery right to my door. Addiction began to take over.
I was living a double life. I would smoke heroin throughout the day, whether I was at work or at home. I spent most of my days high. But I was still able to keep up with my work and my friendships. I had a tight circle of friends who didn't really use, or at least didn't use like I did, and we all bonded over sports. I was able to hide my addiction from them.
But a few years later, when I began smoking crack again, things went downhill in a hurry. For me, a crack addiction was a lot harder to hide. Colleagues and friends became aware quickly that something wasn't right. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom at work, smoking to maintain my high. And I was spending more time with my girlfriend, who worked in the same company and was also using. We were less available to other friends.
One morning, my girlfriend phoned me at my desk to tell me she'd just been called in to talk to HR about her drug use. She figured I was about to be called in too. She was right.
When I was confronted, I was basically honest. I admitted I had some problems with drug use. The company suggested that both my girlfriend and I first try a detox centre—we agreed to go, but after a few days, we skipped out.
Work was keeping tabs on us: they called the detox centre and found out we'd left. When they finally caught up with us, we were put on short-term disability, our families were told and it was decided that we would be sent to live in separate treatment facilities. To be honest, I'm not sure I was ready for treatment. I wasn't finished being a drug addict. But I completed a six-week program at the facility.
After that, I went back to work. It was a bit awkward. Word had spread and rumours were passed around—picking up BS along the way. I heard that my girlfriend and I had been doing all sorts of things that sounded way more exciting than anything that had actually happened. But I stuck it out, and eventually the rumours faded into the background.
Yet even after that, I continued to struggle with drugs; I just became really good at hiding it. Although my company had been fairly supportive up to that point, I'm not sure what would have happened if they had found out I hadn't completely changed my ways. Though they never came out and said so, I suspect I'd already used up my "Get Out of Jail Free" card. I think I probably would have been fired.
After a number of attempts to clean up my act over the next six years, something inside of me said, "No. Enough. I'm done." It was like a switch had been turned off. I finally realized I was tired of the life I was leading—of spending my last 20 bucks on drugs for one more high that was never as good as the first one. And having no food to eat grows pretty tired pretty fast. I envied the freedom of those people who weren't imprisoned by their addiction, who could just go have a coffee and a muffin in a café with a friend and not have to worry about their next high.
I think that's the key to getting clean: you have to want it, and you have to have had enough of the addict's life.
I had definitely had enough. By the time I got clean—and basically I cleaned up on my own—I had been using on and off for about 15 years.
It has been eight years now, and I would say I lead a fairly healthy life these days. I eat well, I play lots of soccer, and I use the gym regularly. I still drink in moderation—though not alone—and I still go to music concerts. But when I think about my old life, I have no desire to go back. I enjoy where I'm at. I live a life of balance now, rather than a life of extremes. For me, that's the real high.
* The title is from a line in the Grateful Dead's "Wharf Rat." The author's pseudonym is inspired by the same song.
About the author
August grew up in Vancouver and now resides in Burnaby. He plays soccer and has coached soccer in the past. He also plays bass guitar