I’m a product of Cocaine Anonymous’: Cumbernauld’s addicts come clean

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 14:01 on 29 January 2015.
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The plethora of leaflets which are given out to newcomers and visitors. Picture: Scott Campbell for Cumbernauld Media.
THERE are thousands of meetings happening every night all around the world for people battling the disease of addiction. Not many people will suspect though that such meetings are happening right on their own doorstep.

Members of Cocaine Anonymous meet every Monday evening in a Cumbernauld community centre. They meet to give each other support, share their experiences and provide a safe forum to open up and discuss the issues that they face without fear of persecution or prosecution. 

In preparation for this – our second article of an exclusive two-part serious on how addicts in Cumbernauld are fighting to get clean and sober, and maintain their sobriety – Cumbernauld Media’s Scott Campbell attended one of the group’s meetings, in Cumbernauld, to learn more about what happens, and to understand the difficulties of battling addiction.

Arriving a little early, as I often do for most meetings, I found myself tucked away in a back room of a Cumbernauld community centre, on a cold and wet Monday evening. I was greeted to a warm welcome, and soon found myself at ease with people who had given me an insight into the depths of their lives.

The room was laid out like any other public meeting – there must have been around 15 chairs dotted around the hall; a small table with tea, coffee and biscuits awaited visitors as they stepped through the door, while the top table with adorned with seven lit candles, to create a more homely, relaxing, safe feel. 

On the table was a cover. On the front of that cover, the Cocaine Anonymous logo was clearly visible. Above it read the phrase ‘Cumbernauld Group’, will the Cocaine Anonymous creed, “Hope. Faith. Courage” sat in clear view of all attendees – as did a copy of the ‘Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous’, which adorned the top table, alongside the aromatherapy candles. 

One of the group’s members welcomed me in, introduced herself and began explaining more about the organisation’s credo, how it operates and how the local meeting runs. In between greeting the attendees one-by-one with a warm smile and a reassuring hug she told me that addiction is a “horrible mental illness”, which Cocaine Anonymous helps people overcome through peer-to-peer support.

“It’s all about support through comradeship,” the self-made businesswoman told me, as she flicked through the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous – a book which, first printed in 1939 – tells the stories of how alcoholics overcame their alcoholism. 

“I’ve been 18 years clean, and I know it’s a difficult process, but if you work through the 12-step programme you can make a real breakthrough,” she explained. 

“I’ve seen some people who’ve lapsed after a while of not attending Cocaine Anonymous meetings, because they’re not getting the support and making the connections to help them maintain their sobriety. And, I suppose that’s the key thing – it’s a horrible illness.”

Jennifer, a self-made businesswoman told me about how she was on the “party scene” and used speed and ecstasy regularly. She explained how her first meetings were not appealing, but that sticking with it in the end has helped her remain 18 years clean, meet her husband and build a business. 

She explained to me how “When I went to my first meeting I was only 25-years-old and it seemed to be a load of older people trying to be gentlemen and encourage me in, in their own way. 

“However, I didn’t fully engage with the whole programme until about one year in, and I’ve never looked back – being 18 years clean and sober now.

“In the end, I came with a friend, to support her; and, after she introduced me to her group I became properly engaged.”

“I felt I had finally found a peer group who I was accountable,” Jennifer explained to me. “I’ve met some great friends and people through Cocaine Anonymous; it’s the age group and the enthusiasm that I love the most but. For instance, I met my husband through the fellowship, and because of the support I’ve received I’ve now got my own business, I have a nice house, two cars and three children. 

“My family are now my main drive to stay clean and sober – it’s them you hurt the most. It’s a very self-centred illness, whereas the programme encourages you to think about others, not just yourself,” she added.

‘I’m an addict’.

Just as our conversation ends, the meeting’s chair, David, kicked off proceedings by announcing ‘I’m an addict’, because for a moments silence for still suffering addicts elsewhere. The silence was then followed by a prepared preamble, which one of the 9 attendees read out; it’s our “desire to stop using cocaine and other mind altering substances”, he read. 

Following on from the preamble, attendees moved on to chip in the costs for the meeting. It was explained to me silently by Jennifer that Cocaine Anonymous doesn’t accept outside funding, so it remains neutral and wholly independent, meaning that room lets and the costs of tea and coffee comes from the pockets of members. 

After the collection David asked three members to come forward – one to recite the ‘Alcohol reading’; a second to deliver the ‘Drugs reading’; and, finally, a third person to proclaim the 12 traditions of Cocaine Anonymous.

Coupled with the 12-steps of the programme, the 12 traditions are ultimately a short version of standing orders for Cocaine Anonymous. Both the steps and the traditions were carefully positioned, as posters, on the wall behind the top table, as a constant reminder to members of what they should be doing to battle their daemons. 

Once the readings were over, David began to talk of his own personal experience. “Hi everybody, my name is David and I’m an addict,” he said.

“I used to use cocaine, Valium and whatever else I could put into my body,” David said to the meeting. “I would keep putting more into my body and it kept wanting more.”

“In the end,” he explained, “I came to Cocaine Anonymous and found it to be a safe place, so I ended up going to two meetings every day – one in the afternoon and one at night.”

“Cocaine Anonymous is a life-changer,” he added. “It’s up to each of you to help others as well as yourselves,” he told the meeting.

“Addicts are the only people who understand each of us, and Cocaine Anonymous was the only place that worked for me.

“For instance, every night I have people come to my house to keep me company, to socialise, and to help me retain my sobriety – one person will stay between 6:30pm until 8:30pm, and a second will keep me company between 8:30pm and 11pm. 

“Everything I do now is with clean and sober people,” David added. “It’s about sticking to the 12-step programme, supporting each other and keeping only clean and sober company,” he concluded.

Stewart’s story.

Opening remarks over, David introduced Stewart – a special guest speaker, who in line with the group’s rules had 30 minutes to speak about his own experiences at some length.

“It’s great to be here sober and alive,” Stewart said in his opening sentence. 

“Addiction is a deadly illness, and I’ve been to enough funerals and seen enough people go off into the sunset to not stay clean and sober,” Stewart added.

“Come October 20th I’ll be 10 years clean – it’s a miracle to have got this far, and I have been very fortunate to have Cocaine Anonymous to pull me through and help me stay clean and sober. I’ve been given a chance.”

Stewart, 43, went on to explain to the meeting his background and how he ultimately became addicted to alcohol and drugs.

“I was discontented and irritable as a child. Most of my issues came around food. I would just eat everything and anything whenever; and, occasionally I would launch my lunch simply because it was boring.

“Looking back, I was very self-seeking person, from the year dot. I was an absolute attention seeker, and that meant that I was a real nuisance in school.”

Talking of his educational experience, Stewart explained: “I moved from Dunfermline to Glasgow in 1981, and the new school I went to was an ex-private school that was strict. 

“After two months at the school, the headmistress phoned my mum and said I was distributing other people’s learning. To me it didn’t matter, though, and I kept up with my behaviour. Then, after five months at the school I was given a card that I had to get signed at the start of everyday.

“My saving grace though was football. My dad’s brother was an ex-professional with West Ham, so I was obsessed with football – I loved it, and I played all of the time.”

Moving on, Stewart then proceeded to talk about his first cigarette. “My sister gave me my first fag, with my cousin, because I had caught her smoking,” he explained. 

“I hated my first time, but after trying it a few more times I became addicted, as most people do when they try nicotine. After a while I then started stealing so I could fund my habit.”

Stewart then began to talk a little bit more about his private home and family life. “My dad was an alcoholic,” he admitted. 

“He wasn’t a nice guy to be around,” he told the meeting. “He was like a bear with a sore head when he wasn’t drunk, and there was a culture in the house of secrecy and silence – I didn’t want to be like him.”

With a steady voice and straight face, Stewart then admitted to the audience that “My dad died when I was in prison, but I didn’t shed any tears for his lose.”

Talking about how his addiction developed, Stewart explained to the group’s members that “I seen a programme which filmed people using heroin in my first or second year of high school, and it just didn’t seem appetising or appealing to me; I wondered to myself ‘how could people use it?’

“However, because I was so easily led back then, and because in 1988 – when I was 16-years-old – it was an attractive scene, I soon changed my mind on heroin, and soon afterwards I started using cannabis.”

Stewart added: “I would associate myself with anybody back then – my ego was so low, and I just wanted to hide the ‘real me’.

“After a few years I was using things like hash and butane gas; and, to fund my habit I began to steal. I stole things like my mum’s jewellery and I even started going door-to-door claiming I was looking for sponsorship money. Back then I would run through walls to get high.”

Moving on to sketch out his experience of his first drink, Stewart said: “My first drunk was something like Tartan Special and cider – I hated it; the taste repelled me. My second drunk, however, was amazing.

“I was at a house party and I was drinking Merrydown Cider and Stout for a couple of hours before I ‘whited’. It was always imprinted on my mind, though, how good those hours were, and so I went looked for the good feeling again.

“As a result, the goalposts moved – things I once thought ‘I’ll never do that’ became acceptable. I began using LSD and speed, before the nightclub scene in the 1990s meant I kept trying to keep up with the scene.

“That feeling I had of ‘I’ve got to keep up’ meant that I would sometimes be up for one or maybe two days taking speed with two or three friends. 

“Back in the 1980s, though, I had tried cocaine, while on holiday in Spain. I got an amazing feeling; I felt gangster-like: powerful and domineering; I thought it was cool so I scored some in Glasgow when I returned. However, with the stuff I scored in Glasgow there was no honeymoon period and I lost it a little.

“I began to think that I could build my own ‘cocaine empire’, by dealing. However, I broke the golden rule: I got high on my own supply. Then came the physical allergy,” he explained.

“Looking back, I can see that my usage was pathetic. I couldn’t do it with other people, for example. I was paranoid and self-conscious. It meant that when I used it I had to disappear after two minutes, and lock myself away. 

“All the while I believed in my business idea of ‘I’ll use one ‘gram of Charlie’ before selling the rest on and make £200’. Stupidly, I believed it and 10 minutes later I had to leave wherever I was, start getting stuck into my stash.

“I sat up for days and tanned it – telling myself all the while ‘this is the last’. This happens for over a decade, and in the end of my spree I was singing the addict’s national anthem of ‘this is the last time’.

“Nobody would come near me, I had no girlfriends for a long time and I couldn’t hold down a job. I would lie in my bed and tell myself it’s definitely the last time now, because my friends were all setting into their careers and starting families while I had a load of debt. The persistence of the illusion is powerful, though. 

“Everything came to a head a few years little. I broke down a guy and my best mate introduced me to Cocaine Anonymous. My first meeting was phenomenal; I felt a sense of belonging, and the discussions were one-on-one. 

“Despite the organisation back then being a bit laissez-faire, the meetings were like the waiting room before the operation, I admitted I was an addict for the first time, but I then had to put in the work to break free from my addiction. 

“Four and a half months into my membership of Cocaine Anonymous I relapsed because I didn’t put in the work – I was away from the fellowship for some four months, before I came back. 

“At the first meeting I went to after my four months out I heard the stories of two inspiring guys – they spoke my language; I’d never heard anything like they were saying before – it was like music to my ears. After they finished, I spoke to one of them and he sponsored me. 

“That was the beginning of my recovery – I had self-diagnosed as being an addict, and admitted I was powerless. It was a confession of my inner most self. And, after the confession came the spiritual awakening through the 12-step programme.

“I’m a product of Cocaine Anonymous,” Stewart concluded. 

Following Stewart’s presentation, David broke the meeting for a 15-minute break. I stuck to my bottle of Coca-Cola, frankly trying to scribble down notes of what Stewart said in the preceding thirty minutes. Despite my rather rude and frantic efforts to recall from memory what was said, every member of the group wanted to speak to me about their experiences. 

By the end of the break I had gained a short insight into the extraordinary lives of some of the sufferers in Cumbernauld. They told me of how the “fellowship”, as they call it brought them back from the dead, and gave them new life with their family and friends. I learned of the awe-inspiring ambition and determination of every sufferer in the room, and discovered that the drive to make their lives better runs deep – with most of the members being the first to sign up for college places and apply for jobs. 

‘I’m grateful to be here, alive and sober’.

Before I could get round the entire room, however, David had called the meeting back to order. He proceeded to open the floor so that members could share their personal thoughts more. Each member began their remarks by introducing themselves, by their first name, before declaring ‘I’m an addict’, and thanking the group for having their “doors open” to them. 

The first person to speak was Ross. He told the meeting that he first took cocaine in Spain, at the young age of 16-years-old. “I was on holiday with my colleagues, and I saw them cutting up the cocaine one evening. So, not wanting to be left out and being desperate to fit in I asked for a line. They told me ‘No’, but at a brothel one night I was chasing it, when I managed to get a gram of coke, that lasted me the whole night. My life took a turn thereafter and I’m grateful to be here, alive and sober. 

John was the second person to speak. “I stole everything to finance my habit,” he told the meeting. “Looking back, it’s horrible and embarrassing but that’s where addiction takes you. I’m grateful for this programme, and I’m lucky to have Cocaine Anonymous – I was at rock bottom and my wife and kids were about to leave me; now, I’ve got my life back, and I’m eternally grateful to Cocaine Anonymous.

After John, Paul was the next person willing to speak to the meeting. “I lost my first sponsor through not doing the work,” Paul said. “I kept on phoning him and asking him where the best meeting was to go to if I wanted to go back. In the end I returned to Cocaine Anonymous, and ended up at a meeting to which only three people turned up. I was only a day clean by then, and I had stumbled into a group consciousness – I was sitting shaking at the meeting, and my sponsor helped me through.” Paul added that his abuse of cocaine was “pathetic”, adding: “I was always on edge and believing my own lies – it even came to the point where I would say to my family ‘I’m off to walk the door’, when in fact I would walk the dog around the corner, pick up some drugs and come home.” 

Fourth to speak, Mark told the meeting: “. I grew up in Renfrew, and I was your typical dope head – my bedroom fall was covered with Bob Marley posters – my mum hated it. However, being insecure and scared child meant that I gravitated to rather ‘mental’ people, who had an influence over me. I had such crippling insecurities that I’d try to build a false reputation to mask the fact that the real me was terrified. I always looked up to these people I hung around with, and when I went to prison with them, they changed their minds on certain matters – and my mind changed to, and I became obsessed with making me feel better. After it all, the person I looked up to most went into recovery and I was attracted instantly; and, after being clean for 60 days I started walking around sponsoring people. Speakers have a clear and passionate way of understanding your own experiences.”

Next to address the group was James, who spoke of the “Tony Montana syndrome” which he experienced by abusing certain drugs. He added: “When I was using cocaine I had a honeymoon period, unlike Stewart there. It felt great for a while but eventually it stopped and I hit rock bottom. I was going to end up mugged, stabbed or shot. I’ve been clean now for 40 days and if you had told me previously that my daughter will look up to me and my family would speak to me again I wouldn’t have believed you. You do though have some bad days when you first start, though. However, the steps helped me, and I’m glad to be sitting here sober.”

Gary was the last to speak. He described his delight at having a meeting to attend, and praised his fellow group members. “The first time I came to a Cocaine Anonymous meeting my belly was on fire. I’m so grateful for the people in the fellowship. I really needed something new; I am forever grateful to the fellowship and to my family – I feel as if I’m in totally safe hands when I come to Cocaine Anonymous meetings – I’m glad to be here.”

After all was said and done, the group’s members picked up their chairs, stacked them into piles on the floor, cleaned up what little mess there was and formed a circle in the centre of the crammed community room to say a short prayer. Afterwards, the candles were put out, the tea bags packed away and the goodbyes exchanges – another week, another meeting over. 

For more information about Cocaine Anonymous Scotland – or if you have been affected by any issues raised in this article – you can visit their website, www.cascotland.org.uk or call their Scottish helpline on 0141 959 6363.
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