Investigating the story of a former ice addict, who has now celebrated more than five years of being sober.
It was his eyes of empathy a smile of sympathy and a humble tone.
“Hi, I’m Chris. And I’m an addict”.
In a bare room with chairs placed in the shape of a square, sat a young man, whose willingness to reform and succumb to spirituality enlightened an outsider like myself around the life of a former addict
The foundations of fellowship and the ability to be grateful for each individual day is what brought Chris to restoration.
A young man from a stable and ‘normal’ family, with a job no one had thought he was able to obtain explains his journey.
“I used to live in Brisbane, where my addiction first began.
“But, it wasn’t till I came to Sydney that I first encountered ice.
“Work gave me time off to get myself together.
“It wasn’t until I first met Erica that I knew I had a problem.
“She said to me ‘hey you’re one of us’
“I needed to seek help, crystal meth anonymous (CMA) was my first step.”
His chin began to chatter, his voice began to quaver and his empathetic blue eyes shone in the light as tears dampened his eyes.
“When I was 14, I became a massive pothead.
“When I was 17, someone offered me a line of cocaine at a party.
“And from that night, that’s when I kept going back”.
At such a young age Chris’s addiction caused him to lose his loved ones, and the relationships he had held were gradually destroyed.
“At the age of 14 I was kicked out of home. I was a pothead and that’s when I started to become a heavy drinker.
“My relationship with my parents was really rough from a young age.
“Having said that, they are good people and my sister turned out fine.
“It was all about me.
“Relationships with friends, employers, I burnt bridges. Over and over again.”
He explained that he has lived a cycle of relapse and rehabilitation.
“The job I got 10 years ago, I had already entered recovery. I already started working on relationships and myself.
“There was a lot of effort to keep that job over the 10 years, I’m pretty proud of it.
“At the age of 22 I went to Centrelink to seek help.
“I was unemployed; I was on the dole and selling drugs for a living.
“I wasn’t a very well young man, I was about 42kg. I was wearing my only shirt and my jeans were hanging off my hips and I had a bumbag around my shoulder.”
On this day however, he had neatly groomed grey hair and well-trimmed face, and wore a perfectly ironed polo.
I sat there, staring back at what I had perceived to be an everyday ‘normal’ human, coming and going to work each day and embracing the city life here in Sydney.
I was wrong, his past identity was unravelling in front me. Behind a quaint smile, sat a tarnished individual laying to bare what he once was.
He explained, “they took me to a councillor and showed me pamphlets to rehab. And being there that’s when I was introduced to meetings.
“They put me through a course where I had to write a resume. I was so angry with the guy running the course, he kept hitting me with questions and I kept yelling back and screaming.
“But then I had a moment of clarity.
“I said this isn’t the person I’ve ever wanted to be and I broke down crying.
“It was the first time I cried in memory.
“Up to that time it was me against the world.”
Managing his emotion, he uttered, “It’s always been me alone”.
I could tell his thoughts were coming back to him, as he began to sit up straighter than he had before. A sense of strength settled as he began retelling his past.
“After I stopped crying, these two little ladies came out of no where and listened to me cry for what felt like hours.
“They picked me up and took me to a counselor within ten minutes I was on the phone organising arrangements to a rehab.
“This was the first of my four experiences in different rehabs.
“I was shocked when I went there, I wasn’t used to living in the daylight or used to the realms of living in a habit of have 3 meals a day and sleeping at night.
“It was making me angry.
“I really didn’t take to the rules well. I was supposed to be in there for 9 months, but after 30 days I was asked to leave.
“There was a bit of an incident…
“Yeah I wasn’t following the rules.”
His pause spoke louder than any words. He had hit a verbal wall – a point in his life that he was not proud of or willing to speak about. He went on to praise a long-time friend Brad, his sponsor.
“Asking Brad to be my sponsor was like asking a girl out on a date – having the fear they might say no.
“Even though I came and went from this fellowship I knew I had to find someone I could rely on and help me do the things I was meant to.
“When I asked him, he was very standoffish. He said I was a very angry man and he was scared. You’ve met Brad, he’s a sparkly gay boy and I’m not like that.
“But we went out to lunch the next day and he said if we’re going to do this, you’ve got to do what I say.”
It seemed Brad was like a security blanket for Chris. A warm hearted soul that was willing to take on board the health and stability of another.
“Brad told me I had to ring him every day, practise making phone calls and establish a relationship of trust.
“He wanted me to know that if something went wrong, without hesitation I could pick up the phone and call him.
“During these phone calls, he got me to write down a gratitude list – five things I was grateful for. Then I had to share that with him every day and this went on for 90 days.
“This list could be anything, some days I was grateful I was able to pay my rent, grateful for clean dishes and clean water. After a while he started to ask follow up questions and eventually, he too started to share his list with me.”
The feeling of remorse engulfed him, but the feeling of belonging to like-minded people was stronger and is what gave him a sense of security.
“It actually worked.
“It got me into the habit of calling him.
“I knew my time was worthwhile.
“After three weeks of saying what I was grateful for I had a major shift in my attitude.
“I felt gratitude, the biggest thing he did for me was give me a sense of gratitude.
“I’ve been to other fellowships and other rehabs but I’ve never felt like I ever belonged.
“You know I’m not covered in tattoos, I’ve got all my teeth, heroin isn’t my story and I’m not the average alcoholic down at the pub.
“I never felt like I connected”.
It was then I had realised my own misconceptions about this man. It was the preconceived idea that this man was like what I saw at the pictures, a character created to fit a stereotype of a minority of people, battling a problem or as some at the meeting called a disease.
An unimaginable circumstance for people I thought were classified as ‘normal’, until I sat across from this young man who had the willingness to talk to me.
As our chat was drawing to a close, I couldn’t help but ask, do the stereotypes society create about people at these meetings ever have an effect on you?
“When you’re in that state, you’re only consumed with yourself and you have no sense of what’s around you.
“When I was using it was all about me, it was me against the world.
“I was stereotyped by myself, I didn’t think I was ever going to live a normal life
“I didn’t care what other people thought, I’m sure they would’ve thought shit about me. It would be pretty hard not too.”
I could hear the knot grow bigger, and bigger in his throat as he struggled to say his next sentence.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to stop, I thought I was always going to be an addict. Yeah I wasn’t covered in tattoos but I certainly was a junkie. I thought I was going to die using.”
The room began to hum as the other members of the groups started arriving for the day’s meeting. Our conversation drawing to a close, Chris said being connected to others is what has led him to be the man he is today
“Being at these meetings I feel connected.
“We are told to believe in spirituality and a higher power, to give ourselves to something higher than humanity.
“For me the Serenity prayer and the 3rd Step Prayer and two that give me a sense of comfort and reassurance.
“Honesty, faith, belonging and connection.
“I come to these meetings for me.
“And after a while you come to give back, I come to share joy with these people. That really does make life worth living.”
We envision black eyes, aged faces, sobbing families and cries for a new beginning.
It wasn’t the person with an incessant twitch, or tattoos and piercings; it wasn’t the bloodshot eyes and trembling hands. And it wasn’t the person screaming ‘I hate the world’ that I was looking at.
It was the mechanical engineer, dressed in blue board shorts with a Disneyland hoodie and a smile on his face that sat across from me.
He was what I had never thought an addict would be.
What we see and what we hear are a societal construction, what we learn and understand uncovers humanity and emotion.