The irony of living two lives is that you don’t get double the bang for your buck, you simply end up with two lives lived at 50%.
It took me 15 years to finally figure this out, largely because as a high functioning poly drug addict, I was exactly that – high functioning. Physically strong, mentally sharp and progressing along a pathway to success...
Life was fun and optically I looked like I was living. For those that know me now, privately and professionally, they are unaware how close I came to being dead or incarcerated, and how lucky I am to have come out of the other side, for the truth of the matter was that I spent a big part of my life living with one foot in the gutter.
My journey started when I was around 13 when, typical of many kids, I was introduced to weed. It was cool, but more importantly it gave me a new peer group and identity at a time when I was desperately trying to fit in. I loved everything about weed, and being a naturally cerebral personality, I loved being stoned. Everything was more fun on weed. It went from being a weekend or after school thing to being an everyday thing, and by the time I was 16 I was pretty much stoned every day at school and dabbling in LSD and inhalents. The funny thing was in spite being perpetually off-my-face, I was still managing to achieve good results in all of the traditionally difficult school subjects and by the end of high school even managed a respectable tertiary entrance score.
After high school I had no desire to accept a university offer, and was ready to party. By day I was doing a fairly low level job, was well groomed and competent, but my second life was rapidly accelerating into a crazy world of drug induced highs and risk taking behaviour. By the time I was 18 I was living in a share house and, looking back, I can recall only fragments of that year and a half. My passion for LSD and speed was well entrenched. A fortuitous meeting with the step-father of one of my housemates saw me introduced to methods used by the bikies to grow weed, and before long I was a pro, with a thriving home business.
I considered myself quite the young entrepreneur, but unfortunately revenues from production could not keep up with the excesses of the household and I experienced my first real taste of the bad side that drugs can bring out in people. Thieving, deception, fighting and eventual disintegration ensued. The last month in that house I was totally alone for the first time, and it wasn’t pretty. I would wander from empty room to empty room in a big house, with my bed the only furniture I owned. I was at a crossroads, and decided a move back to Mum and Dad’s house was in order to re-assess things.
A life back at my parent’s house was good, and I liked a feeling of accountability in that I couldn’t just waltz in with pupils the size of saucers and sit down for dinner. However, it wasn’t long before my level of drug use was escalating again. I worked out how to be off my face almost permanently whist remaining undetected, and developed a set of skills that would form the foundations for maintaining a double life over the next decade.
By this stage, three years had passed since school and the reality of working an average job surrounded by average people set in. I was miserable and stuck. I made a decision to use my original tertiary entrance score to try and get into university, and when I got accepted it was like the gift of a new beginning, which I grasped with both hands. I felt like I was in a competition with lots of fresh, bright and enthusiastic high school grads, who didn’t have the handicap of a partially fried brain, so there was a real incentive to clean up my act. This was boosted when I met my first girlfriend, a naïve young thing with a heart of gold, who wasn’t tainted with drugs, alcohol and dozens of past sexual partners. I experienced genuine feelings and emotions that were not induced by chemicals, and cheap reckless thrills, and I felt that it was something that I wanted to keep very separate from the world I had known.
Old habits die hard as they say, and my double life became a stark reality through my university years. I wanted it all, and became proficient at maintaining a set of boundaries that were strictly enforced in order to achieve it. In my first life, I had my uni life, fantastic grades, a loving girlfriend and an optimistic outlook for a great career, family and future. Behind the scenes, my second life was being lived in grotty drug houses with degenerates, always trying to manage how to get drugs and take drugs, without crossing my self-imposed boundaries.
It didn’t feel like my second life was where I belonged, but I loved drugs too much, and accepted that if I wanted drugs there was a need to mingle with the proverbial underbelly. I remember one time sitting at my mate’s house with a guy we had just scored some speed from. It was like a third person moment when I sat and listened to this walking oxygen thief talking about doing time in prison, never meeting his kid, and his disgusting sexual conquest of a middle aged women he met at Centerlink, including the STD she gave him. I thought to myself “what am I doing here?”, but once I was juiced up I didn’t think any more about it.
All good things come to an end, and after nearly 5 years my first love had grown up and was looking for a life that unfortunately didn’t include me. It broke my heart, not so much for what we had shared, but for what I always thought would be my future and eventual ticket away from my second life. By this time I was well into my postgraduate degree on full scholarship, supplemented with teaching income, and typical of my education experiences to date, I was having a very easy run of it. The desire to party was stronger than ever, and this time I was not going to muck around...
Within a short period I saw the effects of drugs taking a toll on multiple people around me. A friend who I had known since the age of 12, and who I had surfed half way around Australia with, suddenly started acting really bizarre. He was paranoid beyond anything I had seen before, and was continually imagining a range of scenarios of impending doom. We wrote it off as nothing, too caught up in our own drug fuelled worlds, but then one morning I got a call from his mother saying that he had been admitted to a psychiatric ward. This was a guy who could handle anything, so much so that his nickname was the Guru (of self-destruction). It made me start to think about my own mental health, particularly given that I had developed a curious auditory hallucination of my phone ringing. It wasn’t like I had voices in my head, but it was something that others were noticing.
Our famed party house had started to disintegrate too. A few of the players starting to become progressively detached, electing to ride out a party in a bedroom on their own doing crosswords or writing poetry, instead of being part of the main group. I would find myself floating between groups, trying to keep the vibe of the weekend rolling, but the cracks were there. Later, it became quite insidious with relationships falling apart and new ones forming within the same group. Secret conversations, covert activities, lies and deception became the norm. This was in complete contrast to the uber-close relationships we all had formed in the early days. It was quite evident that there was a core group who were more or less holding it together, and a group of followers who were hanging on by a thread. Fortunately I was still functioning, but the come-downs from each weekend were becoming challenging, and there were one or two days a week where I would feel utterly miserable to point of tears.
It was Australia Day 2002 that I hit my limits, and sunk to new depths at the same time. We had a party like nothing before, and I invited everyone I knew. It was huge. I pulled out all stops on securing drugs for the party, as I didn’t want to leave anything to chance - a giant bag of high quality amphetamines, dozens of pills, copius weed, Xanax and plenty of booze. Almost every cent I had went into the deal, and everyone was grateful that the party had a one stop shop for their every chemical need - me. My normally distinct boundaries were blurred everywhere as my straight-laced uni friends mingled with super-high space cadets, and I can recall clearly one uni-friend giving me a look that said it all – WTF are you doing to yourself?.
All boundaries were breaking down and in the middle of the party I found myself lying in my bed doing lines off my mate’s girlfriend (yes off!), while he was somewhere around the house. It was all wrong, but I was so high that I didn’t care. Then suddenly, something wasn’t right with me. I was used to my heart racing, but this was something else. My heart was pounding so hard that I could actually hear it through my chest. I was sweating profusely and short of breath, and it occurred to me that if I wasn’t overdosing, I was about as close to it as I could get. A couple of my friends came to check me out and they were debating calling an ambulance. My amphetamine fuelled pride was still strong, and the thought of being taken out of my own party on a stretcher was something I was not going to entertain, despite being more than a little concerned that I might be having a heart attack. Luckily, it lasted about an hour before I could compose myself, but I was well and truly done for the day. In fact, I did not sleep for the next 5 days.
I was nearing the end of my double life, having gone to the edge and stepping back. Graduation, my first professional level job, and meeting an amazing girl (who later became my wife), saw the life of drugs and debauchery take a back seat. The protagonists from that part of my life drifted in their own directions, some for better, some for worse, and I began to focus on myself in a positive way, eating well, exercising and dealing with some of the legacy issues of my double life. More than 10 years on, I am living the life I want to live, with a great career, beautiful family, nice house and a host of life experiences that many could only dream of. I am grateful for everything, as it could have turned out very differently.
I still consider myself an addict in every sense, and know that if the opportunity was presented I would probably be indulging without a second thought. Knowing this is empowering and scary at the same time. As I have matured and gained a deeper understanding of myself, I have realised that my rampant drug use was not really a response to stress or an escape from reality, but more out of needing an outlet for a powerful creative energy within me. This is the same energy that saw me stay high functioning in the midst of addiction, and the same energy that has seen me excel in my career to be running a new technology company before the age of 40.
I have learnt over time that an abundance of creative energy is a common trait in high achievers. Over a few drinks one night one executive I know likened to a wolf that we keep caged up for the purposes of maintaining the day to day. The wolf needs to be periodically let out to feed to stop it going crazy, and each man feeds his wolf differently, whether that is through sex, drugs, gambling or other vices. Whilst I understand the premise, I believe that this is a massive waste of that creative energy. In the past I did not understood how to harness it for positive outcomes and I wasted that energy feeding my wolf. What I have learned through meditative internal exploration, is that my creative energy can be re-directed as I choose. These practices have been known for thousands of years in eastern philosophies, and have helped me beyond measure. It’s no hocus pocus.
These days, my outlet is family, business and health. Putting my energy into my kids is the best thing I can do to help give them a bright future, and my drive in business to develop new environmentally friendly technologies feels like an investment in everyone’s future. My health is good, and I thank my lucky stars there are no long term physical legacies from years of excess.
Whilst I carry a lot of regret about how much of my life I have wasted being wasted, I now understand that an abundance of creative energy is a gift, and I had to go through the hard knocks to figure it all out. Learning how to direct that energy into positive outcomes has been one of my greatest personal achievements. It does take some discipline, and I still have my moments of weakness, but if I can make a go of it, then there should be hope for all the wolves out there.
This has been an excerpt of David's* Story (not his real name) A story given anonymously for "Made by Scars" Do you have a story to share? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org