My recovery journey (so far) - by Jay Bee (18/12/13)

Hi everyone,

As an ex-methamphetamine user, I am so excited about the launch of the Methamphetamines Personal Education Program. With meth use steadily climbing and becoming such a problem for so many people in our community, it is fantastic to see new initiatives developed specifically for meth users. I really encourage current users who are thinking about attending this program to give it a go – it might just be the one thing which sparks a change in your life. It is also a great opportunity to link up with peers who are in a similar position and share stories and strategies.

Many thanks to Jay Bee for writing this piece for the blog.  She provides a clear rationale for the work we’ve been doing on dual diagnosis practice, methamphetamine withdrawal and consumer participation.  Her piece also paints a very clear picture of some of the areas where AOD service providers (including ReGen) need to lift their game.

 

Hi everyone,

As an ex-methamphetamine user, I am so excited about the launch of the Methamphetamines Personal Education Program. With meth use steadily climbing and becoming such a problem for so many people in our community, it is fantastic to see new initiatives developed specifically for meth users. I really encourage current users who are thinking about attending this program to give it a go – it might just be the one thing which sparks a change in your life. It is also a great opportunity to link up with peers who are in a similar position and share stories and strategies.

I am a 35 year old woman who is in recovery from methamphetamine dependency – some ice, but predominantly speed use. I started using intravenously at age 17 when I tried heroin for the first time. This led to a long addiction, which I was able to overcome by taking methadone (luckily it worked for me, though I am aware that it doesn’t for everyone). After I got off the methadone program, I was clean, but I was not ‘in recovery’ though – at that stage I had no idea of the concept of recovery. I just pushed the using to the back of my mind and moved on. Looking back, I should have had some counselling to process my experience and work on how to cope for the future.

A few years later it was my birthday and I decided that I wanted some speed. I’d never had a problem with it before – like a lot of my friends, I didn’t even know that it was addictive. What I used that night, it was a lot different to the speed I’d had in the past – a lot stronger. I realised later that this was because it was methamphetamine, something which wasn’t around when I was a teenager. It took me months to become addicted to heroin, but I think I became addicted to the meth straight away – I remember strongly wanting it again the next day. This was the beginning of a long and painful road of addiction.

Because I’d had an addiction before and could recognise the warning signs, I sought help within the first couple of weeks of using. At one appointment I was seen by 3 doctors at once, and when I explained my problem, one of them suggested I ‘go and see a movie or something’ (instead of using). They refused to offer any assistance. About two months into my use, I had my first meth-induced psychotic episode – the first of many. My family did not know what to do and didn’t know where to seek help. Even after I was hospitalised, help was not forthcoming. We eventually found a community mental health centre who agreed to take me on as a client. The community centre catered primarily for those with mental health issues, and had very little understanding of drug issues, or dual diagnosis. Eventually though, my case manager convinced me to try a detox facility and ReGen (known then as Moreland Hall) was suggested to me.

Looking back, it wasn’t the best time to be entering a detox facility. There were still drugs at home, and I was also very unwell mentally, struggling every day with psychosis. I was also under considerable pressure from my family to do something about my addiction, and I felt trapped. I will never forget my first interview with staff at ReGen. I was so scared, and very paranoid, but the worker I saw made me feel very welcome and comforted. She was also incredibly non-judgemental which helped a lot, as I’d faced a lot of judgemental attitudes from other clinicians. I hid the fact that I was experiencing psychosis, as I was scared that the CATT team might be called – I often used to try and hide how bad the psychosis was from clinicians for that reason. Everything was explained to me, and I didn’t have to wait too long to get into the detox facility. Two weeks after my first appointment I was heading off to detox.

My experience in detox was very mixed. I didn’t want to be there, which didn’t help things. I had never been into that sort of environment before and found it very overwhelming at first. Staff were lovely, and the house I stayed in was great – I just wasn’t ready. I had also never experienced meth withdrawal before and, while it’s nowhere near as bad as coming off heroin cold turkey, it’s still very hard to endure. The lethargy is the worst part of it, and the cravings were just extreme. I also experienced aches and pains, shaking and tremors, night sweats, nightmares, and crushing despair. I didn’t want to leave my bed and take part in the detox activities, and this was frowned upon by staff. Staff didn’t seem to have knowledge of what meth withdrawal is like, that you need a number of days just to sleep. The other people in detox with me didn’t understand either, and I was even asked why I was in there if it was “just for speed”. The set-up was very much geared towards detox from alcohol and heroin. I didn’t stay the full 7-10 days. Before I left though, one of the staff members asked me to make a list for him of the meth withdrawal symptoms I’d experienced, so that he could understand better – I found this request to be very positive. From what I understand it is very different for meth users who enter detox now. Detox staff are now generally more knowledgeable about meth withdrawal symptoms and how long the withdrawal process takes. They understand the need to be patient with people coming off meth and let them have the time they need to just ‘crash’.

Though I cut my stay in detox short and kept using afterwards, it did give me a glimpse of hope. I kept on with my quest to get the help that I needed. Unfortunately many of the services I accessed, or tried to access, were not equipped to handle both AOD and mental health issues and were unable to help me. Also, some clinicians, upon finding out that I had drug-induced psychosis, were outright hostile – this was despite the fact that I was always polite and genuine in seeking help. I was subject to inappropriate treatment on several occasions, and now understand that this is not an uncommon experience. At the same time, my psychosis was getting worse. The voices and delusions were so real to me. I was convinced that people had bugged me and my home and that I was being monitored 24/7. The voices would comment loudly on everything I did, until it would get to a point where I’d end up sitting under a blanket, rigid with terror and too scared to move because of what I was hearing. Starting sex work to fund my habit only compounded my issues. I was then in an unfamiliar, sometimes unfriendly, environment trying desperately to hide my condition. I would always manage for a while at one place, until it would get too much and I would have to move on again.

A break-through came in 2008 when a doctor I saw referred me to a new free clinic designed specifically for methamphetamine users. The beauty of this clinic was that all the treating clinicians were at the one place. As a client I was able to access the services of an AOD nurse and counsellor, a psychologist, and an addiction medicine specialist/GP. There was also a support group run at the same location just for the clients of the clinic. Another really helpful thing was that this specialist meth clinic had a waiting room for its clients separate from the main (general) waiting room in the organisation – so if you were feeling a little shaky you were able to wait in private, or with others who understood. The clinicians I saw were very knowledgeable about dual diagnosis, and it was the first time I felt comfortable telling them about my psychosis – I knew they weren’t going to threaten to call the CATT team at the drop of a hat. They understood that psychosis exists on a continuum – not every experience of psychosis results in a psychotic episode. I was still having psychotic episodes quite regularly though and, after a particularly bad one, ended up in a locked psychiatric ward. This was a very traumatic experience, not just because I was so psychotic and scared, but also because I had to go through withdrawal in hospital and there was no help offered for this. Once I came out I resumed seeing my workers at the clinic. They had suggested before that I try going into a rehab facility, and I finally started to consider this. It took 2 years of counselling at the clinic for me to come to that point.

Rehab was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. I believe that it saved my life. It certainly saved my mental health. The prospect of rehab wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be because I had already had the experience of being in detox. I had a general idea of what to expect. During rehab, the concept of ‘recovery’ became a lot clearer for me. Even now though, the meaning of recovery for me is always changing and transforming. Rehab taught me so many helpful strategies to cope with cravings, and helped me address issues such as stress management and problem solving. I became very close to both the workers and other clients and learned so much from listening to their experiences. I was given assistance regarding building on my social support network. Most of all, rehab gave me the time out from the ‘real world’ that I needed – time away from the chaos my addiction had caused and space to start dealing with my issues of trauma. It was the beginning of my recovery journey.

I’ve lapsed and relapsed a number of times since my first stay in rehab, but have stayed determined and am currently on track. To help stay clean, I see my psychologist and mental health case workers regularly. I strongly feel that there is a need for development of pharmacological treatment options for those who are dependent on meth. The percentage of dependent meth users is much smaller than the number of meth users generally, but that should not mean that dependent users are ignored. I have often felt that I would be more stable and much further into recovery if I was receiving pharmacological treatment along with psychological help.

I find consumer work and peer support to be vital to my recovery. They allow me to feel that I am giving something back, and to feel less alone. Consumer participation is strong in the mental health and alcohol and other drugs sectors now, which is fantastic and very exciting. It is great to see that ReGen is dedicated to promoting consumer involvement, with a well-defined and effective consumer participation strategy.

To finish up, I cannot stress enough the importance of seeking out knowledge surrounding your condition. There are countless websites, books and journal articles which can help greatly with your search for self-understanding. I would like to mention an excellent little book called ‘The Art of Recovery’ by Simon Heyes and Stephen Tate. I consult this book quite regularly. It is a pocket guide to recovery and includes great stories and useful strategies and tips. Regarding acceptance, the authors write that, ‘accepting who you are is the hardest part of recovery. It is also the most liberating. Once you have accepted that mental distress has been part of your life, you can overcome it. Acceptance means balancing sorrow felt for opportunities lost with joy for good choices made’. For more info and to order this publication, check out www.southsomersetmind.co.uk.