That moment I realised I was a drug addict.

I often wonder if I could turn back time and give myself some advice before making decisions, where would I be today. If I had the opportunity to give myself advice, would I have listened? Looking back on my life, there are key moments when I realised that I had to make a change. Change is required to kick bad habits, but few habits to have such a devastating impact as addiction, especially drug addiction. The feeling of hopelessness and despair that life cannot change and the isolation from family and friends is extremely difficult to deal with. When it comes to addiction, recognising the moment when you need to change your life is critical. There are signs to look out for that will help you know that you cannot continue on the path you are on without serious consequences to your health and relationships. It’s that moment when you reflect on your life and say, ‘How did I get here’? Perhaps you are at that point right now?

The story of successful recovery from an ex-addict

I’d like to introduce you to Ash. A text book definition isn’t going to help us a lot, so I’ve asked Ash to help me recount some of the things he went through to help us get an insight into the struggles he went through and how he managed to turn his life around.

Where does drug addiction start?

Q: Thinking back to the first time you ever took drugs. What were you thinking when you decided to try them? What did you tell yourself about whether you would get addicted?

Ashley: The first time I was introduced to drugs, I was a young kid, completely naïve, immature and oblivious to any consequences. There isn’t a specific reason as to why I tried drugs other than because I saw other people doing them and that I thought it was ‘cool’. Addiction wasn’t even a thought that came into my mind and it didn’t mean anything to me. I never thought drugs would harm me. I could even say I had the mentality that ‘it won’t happen to me, I’ll be fine! Did I think I would ever become an addict? No. My addiction started when I made a choice to light a cigarette and as time went on, I was later introduced to numerous other drugs that I would go on to try. I was completely oblivious to what the drugs were not only doing to myself, but also the impact that my choices had on my family and friends. I was a young kid who was lost and going down a very dark path of drug addiction. For over four years, my life became a battle of torment, tears, anguish and regret. It seemed as if there was no hope at all.

What Is Drug Addiction?

If you find yourself asking this question: How do you know you are addicted to drugs?
Ash elaborates on that moment he realised he was addicted.
Q: When did you realise that you were addicted to drugs? What happened to make you think, this is actually a problem?

Ashley: It took me a long time to realise that I was addicted to drugs and that I had a problem. At the beginning stages of my drug use, I was just having fun on the weekends with my friends. But in just a short time, I found myself using drugs throughout the week by myself. And on the weekend, I found myself taking more and more substances that would have a huge impact on my mental health. I didn’t realise that I had a problem until I found myself becoming dependent on the drugs that I would take. Withdrawals became an issue and my mental health began to plummet. My mind was consumed by my drug habits and they were becoming more of an issue the more I would take.

Q: After you realised you were addicted, did you stop taking drugs immediately? If not, why not?

Ashley: After realising that I was addicted to drugs, I couldn’t stop because I didn’t know how. I was completely dependent on what I was using and the drugs became my escape and release from reality. No one understood what I was going through and I had lost all my friends. My habits were hidden from the closest people to me, which resulted in me becoming a very lonely and isolated young man. I was alone, and all I had was drugs, a job and music.

Is drug addiction the same as substance abuse?

Not necessarily. Many people can think of a time in their life when they consumed too much of something and regretted it the next day. Depending on the substance consumed and how addictive it is, it is likely to have a negative impact on the health of the person, either physically, emotionally or spiritually. What needs to be considered here, is how often you consume a product before it becomes an addiction. Abusing a substance every weekend can become twice a week and so on. Very often, substance abuse can lead to addiction. That’s the nature of addictive substances. Abusing substances to deal with other issues in your life will most likely make those issues worse.

Q: When did you start abusing substances? How often did you take them? How long did it take before you increased the frequency?

Ashley: I started getting invited to parties and it was here that I started abusing drugs. I found myself in a toxic scene and the people I was interacting with introduced me to harder drugs and larger quantities too. The quantity increased over time and on multiple occasions, almost took me to the point of death.
I remember when I turned 18, I told myself and my friends that when we go out to the clubs, I wasn’t going to take any hard drugs and that I would only drink alcohol. But that didn’t last even one hour! I was completely hooked on drugs and I was abusing more and more as time went by. After just 2 months I found myself using substances every night, and on the weekends, I consumed harder drugs and the frequency of my habits would increase weekly.

Is Drug Addiction A Social Problem?

Q: What happened to your relationships with your family? What happened to the relationships with your non-drug taking friends? Did you abuse the relationships in any way and what were the consequences?

Ashley: My relationship with my family was extremely fragile and broken. My family had no idea what was happening to me and they didn’t know how to connect with me at all. I would distance myself from everyone and could barely look people in the eyes. My habits and dependency on drugs caused me to become very secretive and in denial. Trapped in my own world, my choices caused a lot of heartache for my family. I remember constantly lying to them about using drugs and on top of this, I became very upset and frustrated with people because no one understood what I was going through. My emotions would go up and down constantly from anger to silence. It felt like my mind was in a prison and I had no way of escape. All of my friends since I started using, were drug users themselves, which caused division between everyone I knew and eventually resulted in the loss of all relationships with my previous friends. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone at all. I was paranoid, anxious, depressed and psychotic. No one wanted to be around me and I was too scared to be around anyone or reach out for help.

Is drug addiction a disease?

This is a difficult question. According many medical associations around the world, it is considered a disease. It’s not a disease in the traditional sense. We often think that a person has a disease because they inherited it, caught it somehow, or were exposed to a dangerous chemical. The historical perception is that you didn’t choose to have this disease and it’s unfortunate that you now have it due to some unforeseen circumstances. The main difference from the traditional point of view is that a person has chosen to take a substance which has caused a chain of events that negatively impact the body. It’s a choice, perhaps without realising that it isn’t a wise choice, but it’s a choice nonetheless. I think we can all say we have made bad choices in our lives. A disease can be considered an incorrectly functioning part of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavourable environmental factors. According to this definition, toxicity and imbalance have caused the body to function incorrectly. Whichever way you view it, deliberate or accidental, it is very difficult to change addiction as the brain starts to strengthen the pathways to bad habits with the aid of chemicals.

Can you beat addiction by yourself?

Q: Did you try and beat drug addiction by yourself or with your friends/family? Did it work?

Ashley: I was 19 when realised that I had a serious problem and I had been using for over 3 years. I tried time and time again to stop using, but I failed every time. I reached a point where I was completely broken and all alone, and I realised that I couldn’t fight this addiction by myself.

Q: Can you keep your old friends?

Ashley: When I was using drugs, I realised that the people I associated with didn’t actually care for my wellbeing or mental health, they only cared about getting high and hanging out. So, to remain in contact with my old friends and try and get clean at the same time would never have worked. I needed positive people in my life to lift me up and help me. People who are still using and struggling with addiction themselves were not going to be able to support me through my problems and were only going to bring me down.

Q: What was a key factor in getting over addiction?
Two highlighted sentences below are practically the same.
Ashley: The key factor in getting over my addiction was choosing to believe that Jesus was going to help me out of the mess that I had created. My faith was the one thing that kept me going and because of the supportive community I had around me and my family that never gave up on me, I would not be here today. In my desperation for freedom, I turned my heart to the one thing that I believed could set me free. Jesus. My mum introduced me to headspace where I started seeing a social worker once every two weeks. Patience, perseverance and diligence were the virtues required to overcoming my addictions. Growing up, I had a knowledge of God, and I was aware of the teachings of Christian faith, but it was all just a concept and a story to me. I had lived 19 years of my life living for myself and doing what I wanted, and my choices lead me down a very dark path. I was convinced that my problems were irreversible and that no one could help me. But I was wrong. After hitting rock bottom, I found myself crying out to God, and in time, things began to change. I found myself having a new desire to live, and to keep moving forward. I randomly began to start meeting some key people who would go on to support me through struggles and addictions. For example, a girl that I met introduced into a healthy church community filled with people who genuinely cared for me, and in time I had made lots of friends and had people who would check in on me all the time to keep me accountable. If it wasn’t for the supportive people around me, I do not believe I would have been able to give up my addictions.

Q: What one piece of advice would you offer to addicts reading this article?

Ashley: Never give up hope! Sometimes we can focus so much on the darkness that we forget that the light even exists. I know everybody’s experiences are different and everyone has their own story and struggles, but I can tell you that I got to a point in my life where I was completely hopeless and broken. I was fully convinced that I would never be able to be free from the torment and pain that I was going through. I was so wrong. I encourage anyone who wants to find rest and freedom to seek help and support. You cannot fight this battle on your own and you don’t have to. There are always people who are willing to help you, but the first step is recognising that you need help. There is always hope and there is always a way to get through the storm. Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we cannot see. Sometimes we are unable think that it’s possible to overcome certain struggles we may be facing and we convince ourselves that there is no hope for a future. In life we have a choice to have faith or to give up. I chose to have faith and believe that I would overcome my addiction and torment and I can tell you with great joy, that I was victorious! But I could never have done it without having a healthy supportive community around me. Thanks be to God.

Q: How long have you been off drugs now?
Ashley: I have been off drugs for almost three years now and I do not struggle at all with any kind of addiction. I am completely free from all anxiety, depression and psychosis.

Q: What is your life like now? E.g. Relationship with family? Friends?

Ashley: My life today is filled with excitement, joy and overwhelming peace. I have found rest for my soul and have discovered what real love truly looks like. It’s as if the old me died and a new me has been reborn! It feels as though I am a brand-new person. I cannot fathom what it feels like to be broken anymore because my mind has been fully restored. I have truly been given a second chance to live. I now have a journey that awaits me, and a lot of people to share the good news with. The good news is that there is hope for all people.
The community that I am apart of today has forever changed my life. From a lonely, isolated young guy with no friends and not knowing anyone at all, to now having friends all across the country. I’m still in shock as to how far God has brought me in such little time. My relationships with my friends and family have had a huge influence on my recovery and helped me become the person that I am today and I’m forever grateful. I never would have thought I would be associated with such amazing people but that’s the beautiful thing about having faith.

Q: What are the big changes in how you think about life?

Ashley: The big changes in how I think about life are really endless, but I will try and share some of them. I have learnt that without God, life is absolutely meaningless. I once thought I knew what love was, but I was so wrong. It was only when I met Jesus that I discovered what love truly looks like. I now live life knowing that I am valued and that there is nothing that I can do that will ever separate me from the love that I have received. I now have such an overwhelming love for all people, which I cannot contain. I was once broken, beat down, and weighed down by life. Now I live with rest, peace and uncontainable joy. There is always hope, even when it feels like there isn’t. My heart goes out to anyone who is struggling through any type of addiction. You can and will overcome your trials. Believe me when I tell you that you’re loved.