Can someone ever stop being an addict? Can a former addict limit their drug taking to simply recreational use? After you’ve stopped using, do you spend the rest of your life still craving your drug?
By Delphine Caubet
I met with Sylvain, a former addict and secretary of his NA (Narcotics Anonymous) group. NA meetings are full of average, ordinary people. The only thing they have in common is a desire to stop their addiction.
The Beginning: “I gave up. I admitted I had a problem and, ironically, that’s when I won,” says Sylvain, 38. Like a lot of other addicts he’d been abusing for a long time – 20 years in his case – before he got to that point.
He started around age 10 to 11 sniffing glue; then it was on to cannabis at 15, before he went for acid at 21. All substances that short-circuit the body’s pleasure centres, offering the brain an instant reward.
To truly stop, it’s not enough to stop taking your drug of choice. You have to understand what made you an addict in the first place.
“I needed to shut something down inside of me,” says Sylvain, “to numb myself…. When I was a teenager I had friends who played street hockey. I could’ve joined them, but instead I preferred to stay home and smoke my joints.”
Psychological Addiction: Sylvain stopped using several times, once for a 4 year stretch. But in 2014 he began using again on weekends. During this new period he made some hard and fast rules: his friends and family couldn’t know, and his addiction could never affect his daughter. Until the day that he sent her off to a dance lesson by herself so he could consume cocaine. On top of that, he had trouble doing his job as a social worker. Two of his young clients reminded him too much of himself. He couldn’t help them.
“I opened up to a work colleague who was also a friend, and she recommended I take a week off to clarify things. I got permission from my boss to go. But during that week, all I did was consume until I couldn’t even get high… I freaked out…I saw things as they were… I wasn’t even respecting my own rules.”
Sylvain had hit rock bottom. He threw in the towel and, in tears, called an old friend in the middle of the night. “I cried and I cried. I told him: My word is no good anymore. What I say means nothing.”
Withdrawal: Sylvain went through a short period of withdrawal that lasted only a few hours, his body jonesing for cocaine. After that, he had to deal with his psychological dependence. Why, after years of abstinence, had he relapsed?
“I needed to feel connected to my environment, and I’d already stopped for 4 years. But I was having relationship problems with my ex-partner, and I was acting as if it wasn’t important. That’s how I relapsed.”
He spent a small fortune (on credit) to check into a rehab, his third trip to one.
“A year later I’d paid it all off, and I don’t regret it. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done!” He learned to love himself, to take his rightful place, and to not devalue himself.
“I’ll be an addict all my life,” he says. “Drugs give me immediate pleasure. It’s all about centering on yourself.”
In his healing process he’s learned to include a dose of spirituality. A vision of God as he understands the concept helps Sylvain see that he can’t control everything in his life.
First published in Reflet de Société magazine, vol. 27, no. 3, summer 2019, pages 14-15