Drugs were the only life I knew
How have drugs affected your life?
Just as a person can feel loss of identity when they lose a long-standing job, or their children have grown and left home, it is also very common, I believe, to feel loss of identity when recovering from a drug-addicted lifestyle.
I used drugs and lived a fairly loose lifestyle from about age 16-22, and that stage is quite formative in a young person's identity.
I had established myself as a druggie. My friends and family knew me as such, and in a way I was proud of my varied life experiences and my street-smarts. I'd had an older boyfriend who had introduced me to the drug scene, and who I learnt a lot of drug-taking practices from.
I took pride in the fact that I knew more about drug taking than most my own age, by virtue of hanging out with older and more experienced drug users. At age 18 I already knew how to cook and filter different drugs for IV use, and how to prepare poppies to extract the opium, I knew dosages and strengths for illicit use of prescription meds, I knew all sorts about scoring and smoking dope and lots of quirky little tricks for increasing your buzz.
I was proud of that knowledge base. I became involved in crime, and in a way, I was proud that I was "cunning and resourceful".
Seeing as I'd not done much else with myself over those formative years of early adulthood, I didn't have a heck of a lot else going on with my sense of identity.
I had gone to a good school and worked at a couple of elegant cafés in my teenage years, and was quite proud of those things. I started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings around age 17, with varying success.
When I met my current partner, who does not use drugs, at age 21, although I was still using it became increasingly clear that it wasn't acceptable to be living like I had been, and I began to lose touch with some of my drug scene acquaintances.
I was also pretty burnt out, having had about a year of methamphetamine use, and six months of heavier near-daily use with people who were paranoid and unpredictable, and who associated with even freakier people.
I began to leave my drug identity behind, but felt like I didn't have much else to equate myself with, there was a real void.
I had a daughter at age 23, and I began studying youthwork at age 24. I still drank and smoked dope. I was in counselling around my 24th and 25th birthdays and I had made a lot of progress. I hadn't used hard drugs for a few years.
I felt not so much like I missed the druggie lifestyle, but that I was starting to lose my grip on who I was, and was finding it hard to function. I was tempted to return to old habits for it was all I knew.
I felt like I was a sell-out and was disloyal to my past. I felt like if I moved on I'd have nothing, just a big void on my CV, where a whole bunch of jobs and study should have been.
I felt like I hadn't made it as a druggie and I hadn't made it in the real world either. Around my 24th birthday I had a big poppy design tattooed on my thigh. It's my way of remembering and respecting what I went through. My parents were half expecting me to die at times, I got that thin and sickly. When you've lived all that to such an intensity, it's hard, and feels quite disloyal to move on and forget it. You fear forgetting it, in all its realness and richness.
I worked really hard for a few years in racking up a few qualifications, and also began to invest myself more into being a mother. Over the years I found I didn't forget the druggie life as I had feared. My role is now more about being an 'ex-user', and I'm comfortable with that.
also made some progress on professionalising my past deviances, by using my experience with drugs to help others - recently becoming a board member at an organisation that provides needle exchange services and also studying trauma, loss and grief. This has further cemented my new identity and filled the void I felt.
I think a lot of the time when a person is trying to quit drugs and keeps relapsing, the personality/identity side of it is overlooked, I think that's just as difficult to gain control over as the physical drug usage. I guess I'm lucky in that I had a lot of my basic survival needs provided by my partner, which allowed me time and space to think about myself and what I wanted from life.
I would encourage anyone who's dissatisfied with a drug-chasing lifestyle to change it. But you've got to want it. And you've got to work at becoming someone and something else, otherwise you're still empty, and your inner self is still left craving and wanting.
Choose to get off the drug addled not-so-merry-go-round and rejoin the real world. It's actually not so bad.
* The author's surname has been withheld to protect her identity.
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