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Success stories

Graduated addict

The police radio croaked a description of me to all departments. I ran through the freezing morning and zigzagged my way to my apartment. I turned the lining of my jacket inside out so it was a different color. I was crawling through the backyards of a college town in the Midwest, an emaciated, drug-confused junior Rambo. Frightened, I asked the neighbors if they had seen the police nearby, eyes wide in panic, my jacket inside out, and without sleep for days. They assured me nervously that they hadn't seen anyone. I went in, threw away my stash of drugs, and fell into a deep sleep despite the threat of a search warrant.

It didn't occur to me that I had heard the "police radio" in the restroom of an abandoned college building at 4 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving. The delusion of my impending arrest felt so real that it caused me to have this pathetic and panicky reaction. I had injected myself with a modification of methamphetamine for three days without sleep and the overdose had caused a transient psychosis.

I had found this particular drug in the pharmacology department where I was doing my PhD. It was the latest achievement of my intense research. My studies were now just a flimsy cloak; my main occupation was the search for drugs. All of this played out in front of my fellow students, staff, and professors, who became increasingly concerned about my odd behavior and declining appearance. When it became apparent that substances were disappearing from the laboratories, security measures were stepped up. Obtaining became increasingly difficult and I became less and less picky as my appetite for drugs increased. Chemically induced paranoid schizophrenia isn't exactly a great drug high, but I was past the point where my drug use had anything to do with relaxation. Drugs had become the focus of my life.

"The Night of the Police Pursuit" is just one of the low points I hit before I could seek help. Because of my drug use, my girlfriend finally gave up and kicked me out. My skin looked gray, my arms and legs were covered with puncture marks, and my daily routine had collapsed. Everything I knew, had and could revolved around procurement. My job and the reputation and careers of my colleagues were at risk. All of this made even me realize that I had a problem with drugs. Toward the end, I realized that dying from an overdose might be a way out. My addiction had gotten me this far. All I was left with was fear and the urge to do drugs at any cost. My biggest mistake was that my problem was all about me; either I would solve it myself or nobody could. Isolation paves the way to active addiction and it nearly killed me.

My behavior eventually brought about a solution, but not the one I had imagined. I injected myself in the toilet as an antidote to another drug. I collapsed and came to in the presence of two terrified janitors who thought I was dead. I was taken to the hospital and kicked out of the doctoral program with instructions that if I ever set foot in the building again, the police would be called. My scientific career ended and my recovery began.

Getting kicked out of college was the best thing that ever happened to me. I didn't suddenly stop using drugs; I was not finished yet. But something had changed. This loss, along with all other losses, made me admit that I might not have my problem under control. I suspected that things might be different, but I didn't know anything about the clean life yet. Other people had to show me that first.

The disease of addiction does not care about social and economic boundaries. If someone has this disease, the drugs will find them. The way can be very different, but the goal is always the same. There was no abuse in my family. I lived in a prosperous city and went to excellent public schools. I had a comfortable home and a family that was loving but amazed by my self-destructive behavior. I had talent, health, opportunities, friends, and plenty of material support. But I'm different from normal people; I was pre-programmed with addiction. Today I can see that there were hints of this in my thinking and behavior very early on.

I discovered the common things you do in school to get high. But to me, those experiences felt important. I vividly remember my first intoxication with alcohol and every first time with a long list of other drugs. My drug use seemed controlled, but when I was in high school I took every single day, and I did all the drugs that were available. In college, I routinely did ludicrous, selfish, and dangerous things to get drugs. I loved college life and studying, but constantly lived my double life of using drugs.

The addict in me is incredibly creative when it comes to finding and using drugs. When it came time for my PhD, I actually found pharmacology fascinating. But it was also a decision that gave someone with no street experience access to drugs. For a few years I was still able to pursue my legitimate goals while a deadly process was taking place. The more my goals got in the way of my drug use, the more often I dropped them. You could see how my illness was progressing by looking at all the bad compromises I made with myself and threw out again. "I don't take anything during the week" became "I don't take anything during the day," then "I'll never inject drugs," then "I don't want it to hurt my career," and finally drugs became my career. My scientific knowledge of drugs got in the way of my recovery in a dangerous way. I was convinced that my knowledge of drugs would enable me to control them. Now I see that's kind of like having a weapons expert think he's bulletproof. My arrogance and self-deception would have been funny if they hadn't killed me by a hair's breadth.

My recovery began when one of the professors I screwed while I was doing drugs was very kind. He was really generous and put me in touch with a drug counselor who wasn't fooled by my way of dazzling people with my education. On my first session with him I looked horrible and sounded crazy but felt totally in control. But somewhere in my confused brain there was also a desire to change something. This drug counselor was the first person I had ever met who called himself an addict and knew how to live without drugs. That made me curious; I wanted to learn more. First he gained my trust, and then a few weeks later he threw the trap: "If you want to keep coming here, you have to do something else." More tests? reading assignments? Medical examinations? no "If you want to keep coming to me, you have to start going to meetings." Although I was suspicious and scared, I decided that I had better go. A manipulating addict successfully manipulated by a recovering addict!

I actually went. My "I'm different" sensors were set to high performance, trying to find as many differences between me and these people as possible and not belonging to this bunch. I was arrogant and judgmental, only paying attention to the superficial differences, not inner similarities. However, there was one difference that surprised me. I had imagined the steps as a kind of guide to not using drugs - "Step One: don't use opiates. Step Two: Don't Inject..." but when the Twelve Steps were read, it didn't even mention drugs! The whole room was full of people staying clean using a variety of ideas I hadn't even considered. Since my ideas about staying clean had failed miserably, it filled me with hope that these people were doing something different and getting different results.

Some people experience recovery like a bolt of lightning: a sudden flash of understanding and clarity, and an instant disappearance of the desire to use drugs. For me, the program acted more like rain or wind, slowly washing away my misconceptions. This process continues every day that I stay clean. I have learned over time that I have an incurable, fatal illness that is not my fault, but I do have responsibility for my recovery. I began to understand that community is an antidote to addiction and isolation is a prerequisite for relapse. I must always remind myself that I hear the most valuable information about recovery from others and not in my own loud head. I still struggle with the fact that in recovery you can often do the right thing before you really understand something. The scientist in me resists this. Some days I'm learning something new and other days it feels like I'm treading water. But as long as I stay clean, the slowness of my recovery is not an issue. The process never ends, so there's no need to rush.

The life I have today is the unlikely gift of recovery. I'm a professor at a big university. My colleagues are smart, creative and dynamic. I am humbled to work with them and honored by their respect and trust. I have long-lasting friendships inside and outside of NA, a healthy relationship with my family, and the luxury of making a living doing something I love and cherish. I feel truly blessed and owe it all to the NA way of life. That doesn't mean my life is perfect. I have issues and fears, frustration at times, and low self-esteem all the time. But I can imagine where I would have ended up if I hadn't gotten clean. In high school I had a friend named Mike. We had a similar background. We were both interested in science, studied pharmacology, both used drugs heavily, and both believed that our knowledge would protect us. However, Mike died of an overdose over twenty years ago. No matter what happens on a daily basis, my life is a gift and I owe that to recovery.

“You can have anything you want if you are willing to pay the price for it.” This is an often-quoted NA saying from our meetings. For me, it's not just about what I might still want to get, but also about what I've already got. My sponsor taught me that I owe every clean day to NA, and I am willing to pay the price for my recovery today. The price of continuing to grow in my recovery is to offer that gift to others as well. When I didn't know this path and had no experience, others, addicts and non-addicts, helped me to find it. You have done the work of my Higher Power and now it is my turn to do the same by doing something for the recovery of others. In this light, it is clear why community is the basis of recovery.

I've been clean for over twenty years, but I still have to resist the urge to distance myself from the others in the meeting by noting the differences. Today, however, I am aware that my illness, which feels disturbed by NA, is at work here. I always try to see what I have in common with other addicts. That doesn't mean we're all the same. In NA, unity means something different than uniformity, and that is best demonstrated by how different each addict can be. NA offers enough space for every kind of people. It doesn't matter what language we speak, what ideas we have about politics or our Higher Power, or how we were raised. In this diverse and ever-growing group of people, everyone will find someone who fits them, whether it's a sponsor, a confidante or a trusting newcomer. No addict ever needs to feel left out, whether they come from the ivory tower or the gutter.

Story from: Basic Text 6th Edition, Copright Narcotics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Chatsworth, California