Recovery Matters

A Fight For Survival

Nick N’s Fight For Survival from Addiction

‘I alone can do this but I cannot do this alone,’ says Nick, a recovering drug addict.

“GOD, grant me the serenity to except the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference. My name is Nick and I am addict.” These are the words of recovering drug addict Nick Nicolaou, an events and decor specialist, function co-ordinator and owner of a catering company and function venue. Also the words of a man who hit rock bottom after becoming addicted to a drug known as crystal meth – a drug which not only changed his life, but took him on a path many have walked before. Luckily for him, he’s survived to share his story.

“I was the middle of three brothers growing up in a very protected upstanding Greek family. Our values were about family, love and protection. My dad was chairman of the Cypriot community and our family placed a lot of value on what the community would say and think of us. I had a good upbringing and a very happy and loving childhood, but as I got older I found I wanted more. I felt a bit different but that suited me. My older brother was the clever, smart, high-achieving one, so I decided to do just the opposite in order to get attention. My younger brother was born with hydrocephalus requiring extensive treatment. Once again I felt like the attention had been diverted from me. In order to get the acceptance I was searching for I learnt to mask my feelings. I became a people-pleaser and a high achiever. My grandmother was a strong figure in my life. She enabled me and gave me the attention I craved. I found comfort and security in her and enjoyed spending time with her and wanted to be just like her.

At a young age I poured out my heart in a letter to a girl I had been in love with for a many years. Her boyfriend got hold of the letter and read it out in front of her family, while I looked on. That year my dad also had an affair. My trust and security had been completely eroded and I began to resent women. I had found comfort and happiness in shopping and in name brands which then turned into an obsession where I concentrated on the outside and neglected the inside. I thought that if I looked good I would feel good and that people would like & accept me, that if I wore designer clothes & accessories, socialized within certain circles & places, and frequented particular spots I would be socially accepted and show that I was successful.

When I completed school I got involved in the fashion and beauty industry which I absolutely loved. Only later, would I come to see it for the fake plastic industry of smoke and mirrors that it is. This is where my masking was at its best. Working in this world I could still appreciate and be around beautiful women but I was in control of them. I could surround myself with beautiful women and become the envy of others. I became very conscious about body and appearance. I started looking at older male figures with good physiques. In hindsight I think I was still looking for the approval that I yearned for from my dad.
At the age of 20 I realized that I was gay. I was devastated and suppressed these feeling for 15 years. I couldn’t let down my father, family and the community, so I kept my mask on.

When I was 35 my grandmother passed away, I was devasted and felt that my whole world came crashing down on me! “ Why Me, Poor ME!” Soon after that I went onto a gay website for the first time. That was where I met a Lebanese airline steward, whose flight passed through Johannesburg every three weeks. I met him at his hotel one day and he was smoking something from a bottle. He offered it to me and I politely declined. “You said you liked to party,” he accused. I didn’t use that night but over the next three weeks we stayed in touch. There was some sort of connection. Someone had made me feel good and accepted, I never felt so alone.
The second time I saw him he was still smoking the stuff in the bottle. I thought ‘how bad could a few puffs be’? It was crystal meth…. and I loved it.

Over the next four months I smoked meth with him whenever he was in town. One day he asked me to pick up from the dealer because the hotel was getting suspicious. Being a people-pleaser I readily agreed. Now I had a dealer’s cellphone number.

By this time I was working with my dad in the catering industry and I discovered that the drug was making me lose weight, kept me wide-awake and on top of my game. I began to use every week, especially to get me through hectic weekends. Sometimes I would fake week-long business trips – I would get dropped off at the airport and then catch the Gautrain to a hotel in Sandton and binge. Once I even smuggled six grams of meth into Dubai – I used a line in the bathroom on the plane before I landed just to give the confidence and courage to walk through customs. I honestly did not care and thought I was indispensable.

After one year I felt like I was losing control. I went to an assessment at Houghton House and they convinced me that I needed to do the inpatient treatment. I told my family I was going on a business trip and went into Houghton House’s intensive residential treatment programme. My brother was the only one who knew. I walked out after 10 days convinced that there was nothing wrong with me – I didn’t steal, I didn’t hurt people and I certainly wasn’t a drug addict in my eyes. I found fault in everything and in everyone as this was easier to do rather than finding fault within myself. It was also the person who introduced me to drugs birthday and if I didn’t leave the House I wouldn’t be able to talk to him. I called him immediately. He put the phone down on me and we have not spoken since, not that I didn’t try. What I had thought had been a mutually loving relationship had obviously not been the case.

In spite of my emotional pain I managed to stay clean for four months. Then I ended up in hospital for six weeks with a bleeding ulcer. (caused by my addiction) I lost a lot of weight and began obsessing about using again because it would help keep my weight down. The day I was discharged I relapsed as I craved so badly after been on intense pain killers and sleeping medication whilst in hospital. I now began injecting one and sometimes even two grams a day, instead of just smoking it. No one understood me but my drug. How could it be so bad for me if it was making me feel so good? I would do anything to protect my drug! I was now on a full blown emotional rampage and all I wanted to do was escape through sex and using drugs. I would purposely pick fights with my father at work and with my family as well as isolate from my friends so that I could justify my using. I dwelled in self pity and it suited me as my only comfort and escape was to use drugs.(so I thought & believed)

Before long I had landed up in another very dangerous situation. After a night of using, I had a blackout, when I woke up in the hotel room and was tied to the bed. All my belongings had been stolen. I was forced to call for help. Two days later I started receiving the blackmail threats and photographs. I had been raped and there were more people in the room than I had thought.

Two days after that I tried to commit suicide. I just wanted to die. The shame and guilt, the paranoia and insanity were haunting me. My body was full of sores from gouging my face, arms and legs with tweezers and sharp objects because it felt like there were insects crawling on and in me. I peeled off pieces of wallpaper at work as I would see things behind it, I would set fire to my wardrobe and dismantled my car, I kept asking the cops to follow me home but when I saw them I would throw my phone out the window because I thought they were spying on me. I would lay awake at night thinking that my family was spying on me through my window and door. I would take constant baths and spend a fortune on creams, lotions and sanitizers as I became obsessed with hygiene and cleanliness and convinced myself that I was infected with something or another. I would constantly fight with and accuse my staff at work for putting spells on me. The voices in my head, the sweats, the shakes and the nightmares were driving me insane. The drugs had now taken full control over my body and had ravished my mind, my morals were gone and I was now a slave to my drug. My soul was consumed and crying for help and when I was asked what was wrong I would lie and tell my family that I was just stressed and overworked. The lying and manipulation was exhausting and was now catching up with me.

After a week of complete isolation in bed and depressed, my brother and a friend sat me down and said that I needed to go into treatment. I said I would go anywhere but Houghton House as I was too ashamed to go back there. What I didn’t know is that my Houghton House counselor had been in contact with my brother during the time since I had walked out of the programme.
I agreed to go into treatment as long as I could choose the facility and more so I knew it was an escape – I had no real intention of giving up, I just wanted to run away from everyone and not take any responsibility nor face any consequences.

I landed up at a medical rehab in Durban. I used heavily the night before being admitted and when I arrived I was on a severe comedown but clearly remember fighting with my brother and begging not to stay there as it did not seem like a five-star facility. Whilst he and the doctor tried to convince me that I was safe I remember the tears running down my face while they sedated me and felt so alone. This was a three-day process to flush the toxins from my body. Then I was pumped full of vitamins. When I came around and saw where I was I lost my temper. I looked for any excuse to leave and I tried to even run away, feeling mixed emotions of anger and abandonment but most importantly I was still in denial!

The staff simply played into my manipulation, providing me with a private room, special food and new linen. I refused to take calls from my friend and brother for the 10-day duration of the programme. At night the nurses allowed me to go onto the Internet. Two nights before I was due to return to Johannesburg I came across a video clip on YouTube called a ‘Love letter from God’. After watching the clip I completely broke down. The following day I asked the doctor if I could call my brother. I told him that I wanted to go in to treatment at Houghton House once I arrived back in Johannesburg on condition that I would have the same counsellor. I guess this was my way of starting to ask for help and realised that I needed the help but also it was still a safe place for me to hide as I was not ready to face the world nor my family.

When I landed in Johannesburg I went home to collect some clean clothes. My mom was standing at the front door with tears rolling down her face. I had always said I would protect her and now I was the one hurting her. Initially I wasn’t completely committed to the programme at Houghton House, but I knew I needed to get serious. In my first group session I exposed my sexuality in public for the first time in my life. In my second group I spoke about how I had smuggled drugs into Dubai and my rape incident. I discovered that it so easy to open up during those sessions – I wasn’t judged, I was accepted. It was a really humbling feeling which gave me huge relief.

I still held on to things in the beginning but the more I got into the programme and started doing step work I started to believe that there was hope for me. When my four weeks at primary ended I decided to go into secondary care at the GAP. I started to see that drugs weren’t my problem. I was the problem. Suddenly things started to make sense. I found peace and sanity. I realised that my family had done the best they could for me but their best was not good enough and that I wanted more and that I was the one who isolated myself.

At the GAP I felt safe and comfortable. That’s where my change really started happening. I went to my grandmother’s grave on my first weekend out. I cried and cried, I understood our relationship and I let it all go. All my security blankets and masks began falling away.

One day my counsellor told me to stop fighting, to simply surrender and follow suggestions. I had never trusted anyone before, but I started to trust her and follow her suggestions. The best thing about the GAP was learning to become comfortable with my sexuality. This only happened through constant group therapy, learning to be vulnerable and asking for help. I finally understood that I don’t always have to put on the tough guy mask.

After three months at the GAP I decided to go to on to do the tertiary programme at their halfway house. Sommerville helped me to reintegrate back into society. It was not easy to go back into the world after four months of inpatient treatment, but Sommerville made it possible to do this gradually. After a day at work, I was able to go back to a safe place and attend their Aftercare group therapy programme, where I could express and talk about what was going on for me and work on dealing with life on life terms.

I decided to follow all the suggestions and had committed to a full year of inpatient treatment. I am now 18 months clean (my sobriety date is June 11, 2013). I am currently still attending 1 group therapy session a week, doing Relapse Prevention which I absolutely love. I attend NA meetings regularly I have a fantastic relationship with my sponsor whom I look up to and turn to for advice. In May & June of this year I also attended and completed the course “An Introduction To Addiction Counseling” offered by the Houghton House Counselor Training Programme, and have committed to doing the life line course in 2015. This has offered me a deeper insight into my disease as well as to the disease of addiction. I have found a passion and a purpose and I hope to inspire and encourage others by helping carry the message from one addict to another who still suffers. Treatment isn’t cheap but fortunately I have been able to afford it. I have also been lucky enough to be able to take the time I need to focus on my recovery. I’m now 39 and I don’t have another recovery in me. I have worked hard and as I grow I am starting to like the new calmer relaxed me.

During my first 10 months of treatment I’ve seen two people commit suicide and 20 people relapse. I have seen consequences come back and cause devastation in a fellow addict’s life after five years of sobriety. This disease can come back and bite me when I least expect it. Not when I am strong but when I am weak. I know that I will have good days and bad days. And I know that sometimes I will simply need to trust in my higher power and those around me. The biggest gift of recovery has been developing honest true friendships. In the beginning, my counselor encouraged me to make friends. I told her I had five-million friends. Now I understand what she means. My friends in recovery know everything about me yet they still love and accept me. ‘I alone can do this but I cannot do this alone’.”

Nick says that he is so blessed to have such a supportive and understanding family by his side which made his journey more possible. As for who inspires him, he explains that it’s not a particular person but rather a group of people – those within the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship. “I know I have to stay in the rooms and be an active member of Narcotics Anonymous! I call this programme magical! I experience a little bit of magic each and every day just by listening, surrendering, and living by the spiritual principles.”

Adds Nick, who says he has no regrets: “I believe life is a journey and God hands us what we can handle, not to test us but to make us stronger. I believe that just like everyone else I have a purpose in life and life is a journey. I needed to go through what I went through as it has made me a more humble and learn to appreciate and respect life and all those around me. I hope that my story helps inspire others and reaches out to anyone or someone who is suffering or who can relate and see that recovery IS possible and that they are not alone! I hope that this will reach someone before it is too late for them to ask for help.”

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