The Australian Story of Recovery

The following is one of  my favourite readings from the Basic Text. There’s quite a few interesting things I like, such as the fact the author is Australian, has travelled the world in addiction, and also because he shares his personal spiritual journey.

Hope you enjoy it!

Up from Down Under

My name is Melvyn, and I am an addict. I believe that I was born an addict, and that whatever I did, it was not with the intention of becoming addicted to drugs. I was brought up in Cheshire, England, of working-class parents, and went to school like everyone else. But I wasn’t like everyone else, I felt different. It is a hard feeling to describe, but as far back as I can remember in my childhood, I always felt out of it. Somehow I didn’t belong. At school I soon realized that I was not going to be successful. So I stopped trying, set my expectations to zero, and was at the bottom of the class from when I started in grammar school to when I finished. But as long as I didn’t try, then in my mind I couldn’t fail. I spent my class time inside my head, living in a fantasy world of my own making. There I was always feeling good. Even on holidays I stayed in my world of fantasy, not getting up until lunch time each day. By the time I started to look for other kids they were already off somewhere, and I was left alone to make believe by myself.

I left school after failing all my examinations, not having a clue about what I should do with my life. At this time I tried two things that I thought might help me, I became a probationary local preacher with a Protestant church and I started drinking. I soon realized that preparing the Sunday sermon in the pub Saturday night was not really the right kind of action for a budding local preacher. So I gave away preaching and did more drinking. But life still wasn’t working out, so I joined the Royal Navy, starting a geographical that was to last for over ten years and cover forty different countries.

I joined the Royal Navy for nine years and I lasted three. The first drink had me beat. No matter what I resolved, after my tot of rum at lunch time, I was looking for more. I was always borrowing money and clothes so I could get ashore. I was always broke, and my uniform was always still dirty from the night before. When I went ashore, I never knew where I would end up, when I would get back to ship, or what I had done. Blackouts were with me from the start.

After I was kicked out of the Navy at the age of twenty, I wandered around Europe for many months, working where I could, sleeping out, begging, picking up cigarette butts, and still drinking whenever I could. I remember once getting drunk in Moscow, smashing a toilet bowl (it rocked when I sat on it), and getting lost on the underground. If there was a drug scene in Europe in those days of 1963, I didn’t come across it. In fact, I didn’t come across drugs until five years later in Singapore. I had spent the previous two years in Australia, travelling around, working in mining camps and city offices. My drinking had gotten me into such a state that I could no longer use public transportation to work, I had to travel by taxi. I was frightened of everyone. I sometimes trembled so much that I could not walk or hold things. I was in a mess. Whatever a man was supposed to be, and I wasn’t quite sure what a man was, I obviously wasn’t one. So in my sickness, I decided to prove that I was a man by going to Vietnam. I had already tried to get to Vietnam in 1966, by applying to join the Australian Army, but because of my record in the Navy, they rejected me.

In Singapore, I was introduced to marijuana, and I liked it. It distorted my perception of time, space and hearing, not aggressively like alcohol, but gently. When I got to Saigon, I managed to get a job with the British Medical team working at a children’s hospital in Cholon. There I continued drinking and smoking dope and eventually my sanity was somewhat affected. For kicks, I used to drive my ex-Army truck out into the countryside surrounding Saigon in the middle of the night. One night when I was stoned I took an English reporter with me and he was terrified the whole trip. I figured it was great fun and that nothing could hurt me. One night I drove past the presidential palace, didn’t stop when I was told to, and ended up with a barbed wire barricade wrapped around my back axle, leaving some ARVN soldiers some explaining to do. I lasted six months in Saigon. Then one night I drove my truck into a jeep, pushed it into the side of a house and squashed it. The side of the house collapsed and I didn’t stop. The following morning the British Embassy, the British Medical team, the owner of the house I’d smashed, the owner of the jeep I’d smashed and the American pilots who lived in the house, were all looking for me. As a result, I stopped drinking for life, which lasted five weeks, then one drink set me off again.

At the end of 1969, I was in England, broke as usual, no money and no job. I decided to try and get back to Australia, and got enough money together so that, if I slept out and didn’t spend any money on food or drugs, I might make it. My thinking was so off by this time that I decided to go via North Africa. So off I set, and made it to Spain all right, not spending any money but getting drunk a few times. Just south of Barcelona the compulsion to drink hit me, and I went off on a bender that lasted about a week, leaving me in a little room in Algeciras. There I dried out, or tried to, but was very lonely and miserable. For the first time in my life, by my standards, I had failed. I knew I wasn’t going to Australia. They wouldn’t even let me buy a ticket for the Tangier ferry, because I smelled so badly. At this period I went for a month without washing. When I was in Asia I always made sure that I was clean when getting tickets and visas, now I was unable even to do this. I managed to get off the booze, but then went on to the dope. I arranged with some guys to smuggle hashish from Morocco, but the dope was freaking me out so much I shot through. I’ll never forget that journey back through Europe, complete failure and depression, I couldn’t even be successful as a bum, and that really hurt.

I eventually managed to get to Australia, but I could never keep a job very long because of my drinking. There came the time when I literally couldn’t move because of all the unknown fears that I had. So I went to see a doctor and as a result I got on the alcohol and pills way of life, pills during the day at work, and rum at night at home. This was great for a while, but as usual, the good times didn’t last. I found that I still couldn’t keep a job and the fears started coming back as well. My mother had been saying for years, “Why don’t you get married and settle down?” So, in a last desperate measure to sort myself out, I decided to get married. I didn’t even have a girlfriend at the time, my drug use had always taken a priority over girls, and my sex life was a fantasy. So I got married, and my life immediately got worse. Ever since I had left home at seventeen, I had had only myself to think about. Now I had a wife, and it was a responsibility that I could not handle. My lies and cheating got worse, and it was all reflected back at me by my wife. When I got married I thought my sex problems would be resolved. They weren’t, they got worse. I still preferred using drugs to going to bed with my wife. I thought that perhaps I was homosexual. So I decided to seduce a friend that I knew was a homosexual. I did and discovered that I wasn’t homosexual. So in the end, I couldn’t make it with women, and I certainly couldn’t make it with men. I was more screwed up than ever before.

It was now 1974 and I had a good job as a computer programmer/analyst. I had a house and a car. In spite of all this, I was mentally, emotionally and spiritually finished. I could go down no further. I hit my rock bottom one afternoon in November 1974, in a forest near my home. During a quiet afternoon’s drinking I had gone berserk and I tried to run off the edge of the world. I had had enough. I wanted to get off. Eventually I collapsed and passed out. When I came to, I knew that I had to stop drinking and using drugs. Since Vietnam, I sometimes drove on the right-hand side of the road. That night I drove on the right again and had cars going everywhere, I tried to run over a policewoman twice, and ended the night in a cell.

There was no Narcotics Anonymous in Melbourne at that time, but I got myself to another Twelve Step Program that dealt with alcohol. To me alcohol was just another drug, so I didn’t have any problem identifying with that program. I was told that if I put my recovery before everything else, then I could stay clean for the rest of my life. That was what I wanted. In my withdrawal I was violent and my wife left me. All this did was clear the way for me to go to as many meetings as possible and to concentrate on my recovery without being concerned about her.

I did not pick up the first drug and I listened to the people who had recovered. I did not associate with people who had come into the program at the same time or later than me, they could not help me. I only talked to those who had been in the program for years and had something that I wanted. I learned to listen and be guided by others, something I had never done before. I remember being told there was no value in a sick mind consulting a sick mind about a sick mind. During my first weeks in the program I was told to stay away from the first drink or drug, to stay away from the old environment, to contact other members daily, and be constantly aware that I was an addict. I used to walk around, from getting up to going to bed, with the words “I am an addict” circulating in my head.

I learned that when the compulsion to use something hit me, I should take steps in the opposite direction, that I shouldn’t dwell on the compulsion, but that if I did something positive, its hold on me would be lessened. I think someone once said that “you can’t stop a bird from crapping on your head, but you can stop it from building a nest there!” In the same way, I can’t stop the thought of using from coming into my mind, but I can stop it from dwelling there and taking charge of me.

My wife came back to me after a few months, but it still didn’t work out. I was very sick, not only from my addiction, but I also had tuberculosis that the doctors didn’t diagnose until I had been coughing up blood for six months. When I went into the hospital, my wife left me for good. Since I came out of the hospital in 1976 I have continued to concentrate on my recovery. I was involved in starting N.A. in Melbourne and as a result I have been able to relate to addicts, and not just alcoholics.

For two years, I didn’t go out with a girl. I just worked the steps and did what I could about my defects of character. I found that I had problems of sexual fantasy, impotence, compulsive eating, and television watching to get over. I learned to talk to girls and not be frightened by them. I learned to handle rejection, knowing that it is okay to be rejected. I found that I could accept myself, defects and all, and that is a wonderful thing.

After a couple of years in the program, I started to cry spontaneously. All of a sudden, tears would come streaming down my face and I would start sobbing. I discovered that the emotional barriers that I had built over the years to protect myself were coming down, simply by me working the program. I was learning to really feel, and I found that I could handle my feelings.

My spiritual progress has been somewhat different from what I expected. As I have matured in the program and learned to think for myself, I have examined the principles upon which I base my life. By doing this, I found out that I do not believe in any kind of God, and that my Higher Power is the power of the program. Today I am an atheist. I still concentrate on my own recovery because if I am well, then I can be of value to others, but if I am sick, then I am of no use to anyone, not even myself.

Being an atheist does not stop me from working the program. The only thing I do not do, of course, is pray. The main thing is that I do what is possible with what I have got. No one can do more. The advice that I was given at my first meeting still holds good today, “Don’t pick up the first drink or drug, go to meetings and work the steps.”



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