One of my favourite early Bob Dylan songs was Cocaine Blues. I don’t know why the lyric “Cocaine all around my brain” has stuck with me for decades. But the accompanying lyric “This old cocaine ‘bout to make me sick” never meant much to me until I sat down with Kenny, the Area Chair for Cocaine Anonymous, to learn about addiction as a chronic illness.
There’s a great deal of stigma attached to the term “addict”. Pop culture and politics has shaped many of the public perspectives of cocaine addiction and what we think of addicts. It was a revelation for me to explore the lived experience of an addict and how peer support plays a role in treatment.
Kenny shared with me his story, in advance of Cocaine Anonymous Southern Ontario chapter’s annual convention in Toronto on September 20-22. He tells it in own words with a hope to change the predominant perspective.
Kenny presents as the proverbial guy next door. He had his first contact with a mind-altering substance at age 13 when a schoolmate introduced him to sniffing nail polish remover. “Lets’ give it a shot”. He did. And he enjoyed it.
You might expect to think it was all downhill from there. For many years, there was nothing about him that was anything different from his friends. Like many, he would smoke pot, take LSD sometimes, nothing special “just what was around.”
He married, fathered children, and owned a house. He had a trade and started his own business. Everything was going well. What went wrong? Kenny tells his tale:
A Starting Line
I had money in the bank and time on my hands looking for something to do. It could have been other women, it could have been gambling, alcohol, but for me it was drugs. I made friends quickly. All I had to do was buy a pitcher of beer.
I was just looking for some fun and one day someone said “do you want to go outside and smoke some crack?”
I thought “why not”? All my life I’d been open to using whatever was around. Here’s something different. Why not? Just looking to party.
I used. And thought it was great. It started at one day a week, then 2 days, then 4 days until eventually I wasn’t working at all.
It probably took me about 10-12 years to hit bottom. But my wife never knew about it till I was in my 6th or 7th year because I had money in the bank. There was no reason for her to react. When she wasn’t getting her grocery money anymore I finally told her its crack cocaine.
My daughter was 10, my sons were 12 and 14. They were watching me. They didn’t know what was going on. They’d ask “Dad, how comes you sleep all day” or, “How comes you’re up all night?” “How comes you don’t go to work anymore?” Why don’t you shave? Why don’t you have a shower?” “Don’t you want to brush your teeth?”
When you use, everything takes a back seat.
One time after a 2 day binge I was sitting on the couch across from my 10 year old daughter, she was so resentful at the time, and I always remember her saying to me “Dad, I don’t love you anymore. You’re not my dad anymore and nobody here wants you here anymore so why don’t you just leave?”
Looking for Bottom
When the money ran out that’s when the stealing and the unmanageability and the negative consequences began. I was stealing my wife’s credit cards, her cheques. I guess the lowest thing I ever did was after the presents were opened one Christmas, and everybody’s in bed, and here I was going through my son’s drawer looking for the 50 bucks he got from his grandmother so I could go and use that night.
I ended up back at my parents, 40 years old living with my parents and my parents won’t leave me alone for a second, everywhere they go I had to go and here I am with nowhere else to go and no money left.
I wanted to quit but I didn’t know how. I ended up going to the detoxes. It was no longer fun. It was guilt, frustration, pain, depression. It was staying in bed for 3 or 4 days after a binge and not being able to look at myself in the mirror and yet I couldn’t stop and I didn’t know how to stop.
I was in one detox 11 times over 3 years. That’s where I hit bottom – on the 11th stay. It’s that point where we just can’t take it anymore. If I couldn’t quit I was just going to kill myself. I couldn’t live with the guilt anymore. It just eats you up, consumes you.
I thought I could do it on my own. Who wants to embrace an anonymous fellowship? Who wants to make it a part of our lives? I don’t think it’s ever part of our plan – “I’d love to belong to Cocaine Anonymous”. It was never one of my goals. I thought I could cure myself very quietly. Use some controlled using. And not tell anybody, or need treatment.
Turning the Corner
I went to my first meeting. That’s where I started to realize I’m not the only one. We’re embarrassed. We think nobody else has suffered like this. I want everybody to feel sorry for me. I was scared. I sat in the back row, hoping that nobody bothers me.
I was listening to other people share their experience, strength and hope. People that have found recovery, people that were way worse than me. When I listened to them share, I started to get the feeling that there’s lots of people going through the exact same things.
I learned that only an addict understands an addict. So I go to the meetings to be around the people who are the same as me that I can identify with but I’m also going there to find people have recovery cause those are the people I want to be near.
Meetings give me access to the program but they’re not the program. The program is the 12 steps. I can go to meetings till the day I die and its not going to change anything, it might inspire me a bit, but it gets me close to someone who can help me, someone who’s been there, done that – someone who knows the way out. Someone I want to ask to be my sponsor.
When I have somebody to rely on, somebody who already knows the answers to the questions that I’m going to ask, that’s when everything starts to change. And it doesn’t take long to start feeling better.
I started to implement each of the steps, one at a time, and my life starts to change. I still relapsed a couple of times, because I had no control, but I think that relapse is a part of recovery. It’s an opportunity to start over. I haven’t relapsed since and that was 8 years ago.
On Belonging and Service
How did I stay clean?
By participating in the program. The people that need the program to stay clean need to stay in the program. We need to participate. We can’t just go once a week and then go home and shut it out and not do anything else. The program has to be number 1. I need to keep certain principles in my life in order to keep the sobriety that I have.
Service means giving back without asking for something in return. I need to get involved. At 6 months clean I volunteered to be the meeting greeter. It gave me a purpose – a job to do.
I started sponsoring other people through the program that I was taken through. They say nothing makes us stronger than carrying the message to others who suffer. The more times I take somebody else through the program the more times I remind myself what I need to do. So I’m not only helping them I’m helping myself.
It took a number of years before my kids were interested in hearing anything I had to say. In the program, steps 8 and 9 are all about amends. Eventually it came time to make those amends.
So I made my list and went to these people one at a time and I said I was sorry. I got into trouble and I started doing things I shouldn’t have done, and I lost control and I know I hurt them, I know I hurt my kids, and I said I know what I did but I’m sorry. I’m at this point in my program where I’ve got to apologize. In order to move forward with my life I need to make amends for my past.
The difference between a normal person and an addict or alcoholic is a normal person will see the error of their ways and it can be corrected. When they start to suffer the consequences they go ‘Oh, wait a minute” and they stop, whereas I could never do that.
We’re damaged. We’re not like other people. And we can’t handle things like they do. We just can’t. It’s beyond us. That’s why we can’t stop.
Cocaine Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their hope, faith and courage with each other so that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from their addiction. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using cocaine and all other mind-altering substances. There are no dues or fees for membership; we are fully self supporting through our own contributions. We are not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution. We do not wish to engage in any controversy and we neither endorse nor oppose any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay free from cocaine and all other mind-altering substances, and to help others achieve the same freedom. Cocaine Anonymous uses the Twelve Step Recovery Program because it has already been proven that the Twelve Step Recovery Program works.
CA Ontario: http://www.ca-on.org
SOCA Convention: http://www.socaconvention.org