A drug user since his teens and a meth addict for a decade, Darrin Sjoberg, 40, describes the seductive horror of crystal meth and his battle to break its grip. From Vancouver Magazine, November 2010.
When did you start using drugs? Started smoking weed when I was 13. Got into serious drinking when I was 17 or 18. I started working at my buddy’s club in Abbotsford and that’s where I started snorting cocaine. I started smoking heroin to counteract the coke, so I could nod off and sleep. When my best friend died of an overdose, that was a real wakeup call. I quit coke and heroin, cold turkey. It’s no walk in the park-you go through hell for three or four weeks. I went back to alcohol and weed.
Why did you turn to meth? I was really hung over one morning, and my buddy said, “Here, eat this.” Instant euphoria! Suddenly I could stay awake for days. But as you progress you need more and more, and after awhile I was snorting it. Eventually you destroy your nostril membranes and bleed from the chemical burn, so I started using a pipe. I got to the point where I was doing a crazy amount, an eight-ball [3.5 grams] a day, enough to kill some people. I spent up to $300 a day.
Were you holding down a job through all this? Making good money, working construction. I’d use on the job, too. At lunchtime, when everybody’d go get food, I’d head to the Porta-Potty. I tried to eat something every day, but you have no appetite on meth. I’d go four or five days without eating or sleeping. I wore sunglasses, and I don’t think anybody really knew I had a problem. They never knew me any other way-that’s just Darrin, leave him alone, he’s not very friendly but he works his ass off.
At one point you attempted suicide. I got into a big scrap with my girlfriend. She’d been out partying, didn’t come home after the bar, and I guess I got jealous and we really got into it. She screamed at me, “I wish you were fucking dead, why don’t you just kill yourself?” I took out my pocket knife and slashed my wrists right there in front of her. She called the cops and they found me passed out in the kitchen, blood everywhere. They took me to the hospital, put me in the psych ward. I was there for seven or eight days. They keep you so drugged up you drool and can’t even say your own name.
When did you start injecting meth? Actually, I started shooting because my dog was getting high from the smoke. He’d be in the bedroom with me and I could see him getting all wobbly, losing his coordination. I didn’t want him to suffer because of what I was doing.
When did you hit bottom? Last year. The guy I lived with, his cousin had worked for one of the detox facilities-she was into addictions nursing. I was at the end of a bender, I hadn’t slept in days. She came and talked to me. I told her, “I need help. If you don’t help me, I’ll be dead in a week.” I’d hit my emotional, my spiritual, my financial bottom. I was done. Devastated.
How did you feel when you entered treatment? When you’re coming off crystal meth, it’s very, very depressing. I was broken. Lonely. Scared. Dope was the security blanket I used to get away from my feelings. I didn’t want to feel anything. Pain, I didn’t like it. Love, didn’t like it. Happiness, what’s that? I was angry all the time, at everything-at the world, at myself. Even if I didn’t know you, I was angry at you. People steer clear of you when you’re angry.
How does your body feel when you stop using? You know how your foot goes to sleep, needles and pins? You get that sensation in your whole body, it never goes away, drives you crazy, like an itch you can’t scratch. You can’t get comfortable in your own skin. And you have pain in your joints, I think from the calcium buildup. It lasts for months. Meth takes away physical pain, but when you stop using that pain comes back, only magnified. So you obsess about using. Dream about it. Wake in a sweat every day.
And you began a 12-step program. Right. Step one is writing out your story and admitting you’re powerless over your addiction, that your life is unmanageable. There’s something about putting stuff down on paper, it does something to your soul. Doing the steps brought out a lot of stuff from my childhood. My dad killing the dog. Me taking beatings. My dad committing suicide. Me giving my best friend the dope that killed him. Two years after that, my mom dying of cardiac arrest. I’d always been really close to her and I was in agony. My way of dealing with it was drugs, drugs, and more drugs.
Is there a religious component? You have to surrender, put yourself in the hands of a higher power, admit your life is unmanageable. They talk about God, “however you conceive of him.” Your higher power can be anything. The Superman picture on your blanket. My higher power is my mom, her spirit. She’s who I thought about and prayed to.
Were there times you wanted to walk out? Many times. I’d be ready to leave, and they’d talk me out of it. “Let’s go for coffee, talk it over. Give it a day. Just think about it for a day.” That’s what’s great about the program, it’s a day-by-day reprieve. If that doesn’t work, just for the next hour. Actually, one day I did leave, and three guys from the house followed me and said, “Just answer one question. Where are you going to go, Darrin?” I had nowhere to go-a park bench, I guess. I turned around and went back. That was one of the surrender points, for sure.
When did you really buy into your recovery? Step nine is about making amends with people you’ve hurt along the way. That’s hard, but the really hard part is making amends with yourself. I was about nine months into the process when I stopped thinking that I was faking, that I’d go back to using as soon as I got through the program. For one thing, I started realizing that my depression was gone. I wasn’t waking up wishing I was dead. I’d been diagnosed as bipolar, paranoid schizophrenic, ADD, and all the symptoms gradually disappeared as I was getting the meth out of my system. With meth it can take two years to fully detox.
Were there other meth addicts in the house? Most of the guys were there for crack, heroin, alcohol, pills. Very few meth addicts even make it to recovery. Of those who start, only about two percent get clean. I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t believe in God, but I pray and give thanks every day-for my health, my sanity, for giving me this chance. The anniversary of my mom’s death is coming up, and normally at this time of year I’d be getting ready to comatose myself. Not this year. I’m proud to call on her spirit. I can talk about her now without feeling agony. It took nine years, but here I am.
What adjustments have you had to make, now that you’re clean? I’m like a little kid. I’m not used to having normal human feelings, so I don’t really know what to do with them-sadness, happiness, contentment. Seeing my nieces for the first time in nine years, I was completely overwhelmed with guilt-when you’re using, you don’t really realize what you’re putting other people through. Everything’s new.
Is it scary? Does it make you want to go back to using? I’ll still break out in a sweat sometimes, but your train of thought changes. It’s not automatically, “I have to use.” I’m glad to go to work in the morning. At the same time, I know that the addiction’s right there behind me, waiting, doing pushups.
You’ve been clean for a year. Are you confident you’ll make it through two? I’m happy for the first time since I was a little kid. I don’t wake up wanting to kill myself. I’ve got a life now, I’ve got healthy new relationships, I’ve got people I’m close to. I’ve got great people supporting me, guys I can call anytime. But I know I’m always just one bad decision away from getting loaded. I plan to keep it that way.
By Jesse Spencer published Nov 1, 2010