Withdrawal and recovery, the way back

This is a personal story about withdrawal from hard drugs, especially base coke. Withdrawal and recovery, the way back. I would like to tell you something about the concept of recovery and I think that withdrawal from hard drugs can be the same as recovery from a mental illness. First I will tell you something about myself. I was addicted to hard drugs for two periods. A period of 12 years addicted to heroin and a period of 3 years addicted to cocaine. The period in between and today I am clean. During those clean times, I obtained a diploma from the social academy (MBO-SD) and worked for a number of years as a field worker and expert by experience. After that I was the initiator of setting up user space and was administrator for a while. I am also a mother of two children. Yet I had a relapse and became addicted again.
The first time I quit on my own, the second time through a recording. As a result, I have quite a lot of experience with withdrawal. I have become wiser through trial and error and now know what it means. I have not been addicted for several years now. I slowly got back up. But how did that happen and what is recovery or withdrawal actually? Physical withdrawal is easy, but then it only begins.
During the last open period I became involved in a number of initiatives of the Basic Council in Rotterdam, about the concept of recovery.
People with mental illness may face recovery. I read about their recovery experiences. Suddenly I understood more. For me, recovery means the phase between my addiction and return to society. It is the spiral upwards. It is the process of trial and error. It’s the way back. It is taking control of your life again. Recovery is also very personal and you have to do it yourself. Recovery is also not the same as healing and there is no recipe for recovery. You have to find your own way.
It so happened that during the time I was using I ended up in the criminal circuit and became a petty criminal. I think that’s the worst. I also sold all my valuables such as all my music, records and CDs and all my jewelry. A painting by Herman Brood that I was fond of. (I still miss some things, but hey, it’s just stuff!) But the worst part is of course the inevitable separation from my husband and children. I will always regret that. I can’t really forgive myself for that. I surrendered the norms and values I had. Boundaries were being pushed a little further. That’s something I still can’t quite live with. There are certain things I will always regret that I ever did. Especially when I’ve hurt people, people I love. I can’t take it back. But usually I hurt myself the most.
Fortunately, all this is behind me now. I can now focus on the things that became important to me again. I will now say that it is all behind me, it still took me some time to really process the whole period. The moment I stopped using dope, the problems that caused me to start using did arise. Such as a number of very persistent psychological complaints that persisted, such as insomnia and restlessness, over which I had no control, so that I actually started self-medicating. It was the reason to take drugs again after a period of at least 12 years clean. I was definitely not feeling well. During the period that I started using again, I ended up in a visionary circle. To get drugs, I went beyond my limits, which made me feel guilty again, which caused me to start using more. The use is then only aimed at not feeling anymore (in addition to chasing the flash that you get when you inhale an amount of coke) As soon as I experienced any problems, there was dope to stop feeling it. After all, I got myself and my family into trouble. Feelings such as guilt, dissatisfaction, worthless and failed, desperate and powerless, those types of feelings come into play. These are things that I didn’t know were necessary to process. There was only one thing left to do: accept my feelings and stop suppressing them. There had also been a disconnect with my children, which made me feel guilty. These facts confronted me with reality. It was necessary to accept it. It was necessary to live with all my feelings, positive and negative.
I slowly regained control and gained more and more control over my use. I decided when and how much. I went from excessive use to controlled use. As a result, I was no longer completely consumed by the drugs. My recovery has started very clearly at some points. You can say that the road went up again from that moment on. This is such a recovery moment:
At that time, in the mid-eighties, I decided at a certain point to participate in a program at the Boumanhuis aimed at detoxing. They were group conversations with a psychologist. The intention was also that there would be urine checks and I would have to start taking methadone. During my turn, the psychologist started to confront me with my behavior and tried to find out why I still used extra. Every time I used up, he felt it necessary to compare me to a robot. I thought his comparison seemed rather blunt and initially reacted defensively and was like: man, shut up and don’t mess with me!! But after a few times it became quite annoying until I got really angry. Then I decided not to have any communication at all and kept my mouth shut. In the meantime, I had become so angry that I decided to stop the program completely, after all, I had already dropped off the methadone for a while and the few cc’s I still had, I could do without them. Still, the psychologist’s method has its uses. Although it wasn’t very nice, he was the only one in our group who managed to give me a different direction in my life and, above all, to become aware of my own responsibility. Only I could do something about the situation, no one else could really help me.

Withdrawal is recovery

Withdrawal from hard or soft drugs, alcohol, medication such as Valium or combinations, people all have their own way of doing this, you do withdrawal in your own way, you recover in your own way. Recovering from a long period of illness or addiction. By being ill I mean the physical withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the habituation to a certain amount of drugs (heroin), there is first a physical withdrawal such as: flu symptoms and psychological ones such as restlessness, insomnia, extreme dreams. When using cocaine, there are no physical withdrawal symptoms, but more psychological dependence and craving. Craving is having an extreme craving for the substance. Cravings often maintain the addiction for years. When you are constantly under the influence, you also have to recover from another reality, but by living in that other reality for a long time I wanted to return to reality. I had to recover from a life in another world, you come back from a very far country, as it were, then you have to get used to it and recover, even come back completely.
I also wanted to fully participate in everything, with society again. In addiction care, there is more talk about resocialization. In any case, this has to do with (re)gaining a place in various areas such as: housing, work, education, income, social contacts and, above all, health. You can therefore speak of rehabilitation.

Recovering from an addiction to hard drugs involves more than:

My hope for recovery probably began the moment I admitted to myself that I was solely responsible for the hopeless situation I was in at that moment. There have been more moments like that. All my hopes for help from professional emergency services had gone up in smoke. Just like all the money I spent on drugs had gone up in smoke. But also my dreams and expectations for the future. I had disappointed others and I had disappointed myself. I was stuck with the debts, so to speak, from years of drug use. My world became brighter day by day as I started using less. Slowly my eyes opened again (literally and figuratively). The first period of my withdrawal period is characterized by the feelings I had at the time. I was mostly depressed. Everything was difficult for me, I dreaded everything and I knew that if I took some drugs, this hopeless feeling would immediately disappear like snow in the sun. Yet I was strong enough not to use it, because I also knew that perseverance wins. I also knew that there was only one thing to do and that was not to use it and instead I started doing other things such as an etching course at the Vrije Academie and volunteer work. Every time I went there with reluctance, but I went anyway because I needed that distraction. I also had relapses and each time I started again the next day. Now I know that relapses are part of it and that you have to take relapses into account. It’s part of withdrawal. Those kinds of relapses are, so to speak, functional! They have to do with the upward spiral.
But otherwise I was scared, slightly socially disturbed and had an identity crisis. Who was I anyway? In the beginning of my drug use, being a junkie was fun and exciting, but later it wasn’t anymore, when I realized what it really entailed. It was no longer about the kick, it was just about using it to avoid being sick, I haven’t really gotten stoned for a long time. Plus, life around it was just hard. The myth surrounding drug use had completely disappeared. I had lost myself through years of use. What did I actually have to say in an ordinary company? People will never understand life in the scene, I thought. I was a junkie until now…who else was I? Yet I had no idea that this all had to do with withdrawal. It had everything to do with it and it was also the case that as time went on, I would slowly regain my own identity and therefore more self-confidence, which led me to do more and come into contact with people who were not using. Looking back on the entire period, I don’t think it was just time that influenced my recovery. It is not without reason that the saying goes: time heals all wounds. That’s completely true, but I had to do other things. Plus I actually had to get used to being clean again. I had to use all that time not to be sick and I felt normal when I had something to eat. Now that I was without drugs, I really became myself again. At times it was like the world upside down: being clean was new to me! Slowly I started to feel and enjoy again, I also started to feel happiness again and enjoyed the little things such as walking in the woods with my dog in the spring sun. Furthermore, contacts outside the drug sector were especially important in breaking out of isolation. I also got those contacts by first consciously stopping contacts with drugs. After all, I only had contacts within the drug scene. And then there was my family. The contact was less but remained. They were my base. They were always there. They were familiar. My father, my grandmother who I visited every Sunday, my mother had died. My upbringing was my basis and I could fall back on it. Those norms and values that I was raised with. I became aware that they were very important to me and despite my way of life, my father and grandmother did not let me down. Fortunately, later I had good contact with my brother again and I became aware of how lucky I was with my family and that not everyone has that, that unconditional love, to fall back on.
Still, I could have used guidance from people who know what they are talking about. The only guidance I could choose at the time was the form of therapy and admission to the therapeutic community. Looking back, I only met people from the drug scene there. Plus, I didn’t want to choose again to confront myself with intense encounters and therapeutic means such as walking with a sign around your neck with a text on it. Unfortunately, there was no further knowledge about withdrawal. So I could do therapy, but a previous experience with that therapy had turned me off to such an extent that I did not want to choose that again. There was no other option than to do it alone and then you are on your own. Guidance in terms of social contacts or work or finding another home, I would have liked all those things. Conversations or support would have been nice.
Fortunately, I did receive that guidance later , although I was much older at the time and knew how it worked, so I used the recording to get back on track. The therapy had now changed. I had to leave my familiar environment to prevent relapses.
And now, now I’m back on track! You will still have your weak moments. It remains difficult sometimes. Then I suddenly get hungry, sometimes with a logical explanation but also without a logical explanation or without being reminded of it, it comes on suddenly. The craving. But I also know that it will go away. Distraction still works best, doing something else, no matter what. In the meantime, I am involved in a number of developments about the concept of recovery and I can even participate as an expert in developing experiential knowledge about recovery. I will also teach myself in the future and I will now first receive lessons in presenting myself. Well that is also a challenge for me. Once again I get a chance in my life to make a difference in society again. That is amazing. I would like to join. For me it means another step further on the road… What does it mean in society, getting a job again, really participating again. Or maybe that’s becoming less and less important to me. I am satisfied if things are going well for me and my family, that is the most important thing. That’s happiness for me.

Psychological complaints and addiction: the similarities

The Basic Council is an organization that stands up for the interests of psychiatric patients. I quickly felt at home because I also discovered that addicted people and people with psychological complaints had quite a bit in common. Similarities include:

  • Both groups face a recovery period
  • Addiction is a lot like a mental illness because, for example, just like with psychosis, you no longer have control over it
  • 80% of people with a drug addiction suffer from psychological complaints such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety, and depression. It is possible that complaints were already present before people started using drugs or they are drug-related complaints, for example a coke psychosis.
  • both groups face prejudice
  • Return to society and rehabilitation has become difficult for both groups, or even impossible for some people. For example, due to long-term use or long-term admission to a clinic or institution. There are also many mental illnesses that cannot be cured. Also, not everyone has people or family around them or a base to fall back on.
  • Once a crazy person, always a crazy person, or once an addict, always an addict. People who are addicted or have a mental illness are often the target of prejudice and there is stigmatization.
  • Both groups experience relapses.

With my addiction background and psychological problems, I can speak of years of experience in both addiction care and psychiatry. First of all, a question: is withdrawal a form of recovery? I think so, rehab is recovery, and rehab is resocialization. Return to society. Withdrawal is a kind of catching up and you could also say the same about rehabilitation.

A process

I think my withdrawal experiences correspond to, for example, someone who has psychological limitations. It is a disadvantage that you are in and you want to get out of it. It’s just a process and it’s not always easy to accept that because I wanted to get rid of everything immediately. Fortunately, it was still possible to get rid of everything. Better today than tomorrow. That process starts by first gaining control over the situation and in practice that means from excessive use to controlled use, so: no longer as much as possible every day, to as little as possible and no longer daily. Eventually you can stop and I did. Stopping itself also involves trial and error, so every time you use, you have to stop again. What is even more similar is the way back, i.e. starting to function in society again, (often after an admission) ultimately a job, friends, good contact with family, a future and most importantly: health, that way back is similar. (That job or that good contact with family is not just for everyone and you have to fight for it.) Plus those feelings that come with it, which I am just now talking about, of feeling guilty and powerless, depressed, feelings of inferiority and often lonely, because you do it alone.

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