Learning from a Recovering Drug Addict

Posted on August 10, 2011


I am one of those people who believes everyone has something to teach us. And truly, I have learned from the most unexpected people.

During my days as a student social worker, I was placed at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Mumbai. The setting was depressing. We came across people who were depressed and couldn’t wait to get out and use again. You could see it in their eyes. You could hear it in their talk. Sometimes, we knew it before they knew it, because their attitude was stinky. Most of these people had inflated egos or depleted sense of self worth. In psychology, they’re related. Some wanted the world to feel sorry for them, some wanted the world to worship them and some wanted to escape the world all together. They came for sessions because they had to. If they didn’t, their recovery would be pushed back and it would take them longer to get out.

As student social workers, my partners and I, would often have group meetings. Now, at these meetings, there was sharing, but not like in the Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous style. Yes, it did begin with, “My name is Bond. And I am an addict,” and the automatic response of, “Hi! Bond.” But it went to a deeper level – what did this sharing mean – which aspect of their life was it affecting – is it possible for us to see how it could have been done or dealt with differently – how would they have felt at the receiving end, etc. The idea was to create a thought process that allows people with addictions to think out of the box – create new thought patterns, and also to create empathy. Often, it was hard. Mostly, it was hard. The in-mates constantly talked of how the world had wronged them, how bad others were to them, and an awful lot of other whiny stuff.

But then came in the peer counselors. I was intrigued by most of the peer counselors. They were also at a risk of relapse. But they recognized that. They didn’t have the deadness in their eyes. They had hopes, dreams, aspirations. I was majorly interested (not in a romantic way, but purely from a psychological standpoint) in one of them. He was may be 23, may be younger. He was a drug addict. Mostly did brown. You know, brown sugar?! Heroin. To support his habit, he had done everything from steal money from his friends to sell his mother’s jewelry. He had gotten into fights and been locked up for a night or two. He decided to come into rehab when the girl he was in love with said she couldn’t be with an addict. Now, you have to understand this. Mostly, this would just mean that an addict get thrown down further. In this case, it was his rock bottom. He had not eaten in days. He had thrown up blood and then he was rejected by the girl he loved.

He finished his 12-steps and decided to become a peer counselor. He had a sparkling personality. Made jokes. Cocky ones. He spoke of turkeying like it was child’s play. But the other counselors told us that in this early days of recovery, he was in a room and use to bang his head against walls because he couldn’t take the pain. It took him more than a year to sober up. And here he was, smiling…encouraging…others like him.

During one of our meetings, this really depressed addict began, “I don’t know how to deal with this place (rebab center). It is so stifling. I just cannot be myself here. I just can’t. I just can’t.” He went from shouting to whispers like a tragic heroine in a bad Hindi movie. I have a feeling he was expecting applause, but would have settled for a hug. I was really annoyed, but didn’t say anything. Restraint is the sign of a good psychiatric social worker. And non-judgemental attitude, a fundamental rule. Before my partners and I could respond, my favourite peer counselor interrupted.

“Thank God I cannot be myself here! Thank God for that. Because my self is a lying, stealing, sonnofabitch!” All of us were stunned as he continued. “My self has hurt every single person who matters, including ME. My self has destroyed my body, my career, my entire life. And this place is what gives me a chance to NOT be myself. But to be a person who is respectable and loving and kind. So thank God for this place.”

It struck a chord with me! How many of us can truly take responsibility for our actions, for who we are? How many of us can truly reject the negative aspects of ourselves? And how many of us would stay sober after that? I don’t know if the AA/NA model works for everyone. But then what do we know that truly works for everyone? Not God, not science, not prayer, not abstinence, not addiction.

In the end, it all comes down to us and whether we truly want something. That’s what I learned from a recovering drug addict’s struggle. A daily struggle.

Posted in: attitude