My Addictive Life

by Robert Saffer

My story is similar to many who have come before me and many who will follow. It includes an upbringing characterized by dysfunction and a disease imposed spiritual blackout. Though I grew up in a posh neighborhood in Toronto, Ontario, we moved often and I began to get swayed by people living in the fast lane. I’m not certain why this was and why it continued to attract me — maybe it was the leftover emptiness I obtained from the lead up to my parents divorce; maybe it was simply the excitement that came with living on the edge or just maybe it was my deep longing for acceptance or my need to feel like I ‘was a somebody.’ Whatever it was, my obsession with drugs and alcohol and the lifestyle that went with it — meaning taking short cuts and pretending to be fearless would ultimately lead to continuous emotional upheaval, failures, lack of transparency and plain old misery.

I have often felt isolated from my family and community, dissatisfied with my wobbly efforts and contributions and never really fit in with any component of society. I was always sad and depressed and then in my teens, like the clear grimness of prayer surrounding me, I discovered pot. This chemical freed me from isolation and revulsion. Also I was an undersized kid who turned on the charm for protection from bullies at school and rats on the street. Using provided me with the gift of acceptance. I never really enjoyed smoking weed. It made me paranoid, caused me to act silly and behave even more irresponsible than I already was. But it did not matter-this was a way into another universe that made sainthood out of sinners. The fact is the most commonly used illegal drug is marijuana.

I spent most of my adolescence running away from myself, thinking horrible thoughts, took up witchcraft and pinned the blame on others. I would drown my nightmares and loneliness with rye and resisted change from anyone who suggested I may not be going about life in the wrong way.

When I was kicked out of University I experimented with heroin and it instantly replaced pot as my drug of choice but I could not afford to keep up with my new addiction. I stole money where I could, ended up driving courier and working odd jobs since I was unable to complete my degree in creative writing. All I knew was that first hit of smack relieved all my pain, anguish and hopelessness. It gave me everything including a false sense of toughness and courage. An estimated 15 million people in the world take opioids (opium-like substances), including 9.2 million who use heroin. Drugs equal death. If you do nothing to get out, you end up dying. To be a drug addict is to be imprisoned. In the beginning, you think drugs are your friend (they may seem to help you escape the things or feelings that bother you). But soon, you will find you get up in the morning thinking only about drugs. My entire days were spent finding and taking drugs. And I lived only for that. Injecting you build your prison. You beat your head against the wall and destroy your soul. Any animating principle you held is gone. In the end your prison becomes your tomb.

Over the years I committed crimes to support my habit, went to rehab off and on but was inevitably always looking over my shoulder and getting deeper into hell. My addiction took me down many synthetic roads, on wild goose chases, over the bends to the pitch black noises of disease. It led to distance from my family, associating solely with other junkies, trouble with the law, institutions and a complete disinterest in school and work or even getting clean. And when I did manage to get some clean time it was because I was replacing one drug with another, usually cocaine. My only hope was that the delusions would vanish and then I would have a good life. No delusions meant a good life. Another fact is the use of illegal drugs is often associated with robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, serious motor vehicle offenses with dangerous consequences. Without question, drug use and criminality are closely linked.

But long-term recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction opens a world of possibilities. It is real, it is happening every day, and it is estimated that as many as 20 million individuals and family members are living life in recovery! Regrettably, the relentless media buzz about the active alcoholism and addiction of celebrities, being in and out of “rehab,” as well as people’s own negative experiences with the alcoholism or drug addiction of a family member, spouse, child, friend or co-worker, creates a disastrous misperception that NO ONE RECOVERS and no matter what you do, nothing works—it is a ‘moral weakness!’ This overwhelmingly negative opinion about alcoholism and drug addiction is the breeding ground for the guilt and shame that are part of the stigma I felt.

FACT: Stigma prevents millions of individuals and family members from seeking help!

I hated myself for most of my life because of these feelings and was just a dreary guy who had no knowledge to make things better for himself. When I failed to get any drugs I attempted to kill myself with massive amounts of pharmaceuticals which has been another enduring battle. But my inability to belong and struggles with depression and mania has always been the source of some of my most crazy and painful feelings. I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I looked for approval always from others. Sober, I was a shadow on the road that never came into the light. When I used heroin I was active and loud but walked alone in silent revelation, numb in the underbelly of the turning world.

In my mid 20's I married a woman who believed in me that I both loved and feared, thinking that maybe her love might fill the void inside me. This was typical of my behaviour to get ‘fixed’ by someone or something. I often isolated and only left the apartment when I could muster up the courage to face life. I got a job writing for a newspaper but was soon alone again, using drugs and gloating in self-pity. I was in deep conflict with my using and my dreams for a better life. In my 40's not much had changed.

Today I can see that my whole life was about self-centered behaviours which caused pain, destruction and chaos to everyone around me. All of my biggest decisions amounted to running away, escaping reality and living in denial. I nearly lost my heart, mind and spirit suffering overdoses, unbearable detoxes and no consciousness of a higher power. I was too ashamed to get down on my knees and ask for help.

I was beat up by drug fiends, spent years recovering from the damages but ended up only using more.

I was granted love and affection but that only led me to use.

Moreover that had been no pleasure in drugging or drinking for years decades. There was only permanent pain, anguish, fear, paranoia, guilt and lies.

When I could stand myself no more, I prayed and prayed and understood I had to come clean and ask for help. I have since learned from AA and NA fellowships that I am not responsible for my disease but I am responsible for my recover.

But for the Grace of God I have a family that has been to hell and back with me and they continue to provide me with love and support. I am one of the lucky ones. Go to East Van and you get the drift. I have also regained a deep connection with my higher power and I have recently begun again to live the miracle of not having to use. I have also embraced the first step admitting that I am powerless over my addiction and that my life was utterly unmanageable. Furthermore I am steadfast on the belief that the Power that is freeing me from the obsession to use drugs can also help me to change.

Though I am only early on in my recovery once again I treasure everyday I am clean knowing that is the first, not the only, but the first step in writing all my wrongs. The other parts are unity and service to others.

Last year alone, more than 5,000,000 people across the nation attended mutual aid/support groups. The two best known mutual aid/support groups are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon Family Groups.

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