Drugs: the real cause - Parents of young children, please pay attention.
By Alexi David
(archive article - Thursday, February 26, 2004)
I AM a former heroin addict. I am not going to use a pseudonym to protect my identity, nor am I ashamed of my past. My name is Alexi David, I am 26 years old, I live in the old section of Nicosia and I am a jazz musician/composer. I’m writing because I’m constantly appalled by what I see and hear in the media concerning drug abuse, and the methods suggested and implemented in order to eradicate it. It is rare for me to read an article that addresses the true problems inherent with stopping drug abuse.
As a preface, I was originally planning to rant about governments, the police, legalisation of drugs, but instead I will cut right to the main issue on my mind. I will let everyone in on a little secret. It’s the best method to stop drug abuse. And it has nothing to do with drug laws, the police, governments, doctors in Israel, and the psychiatrists who think that the way to cure an addict is by giving him other drugs to be addicted to – especially here in Cyprus (it occurred to me many times and only made me worse). What I am about to mention is only rarely mentioned, and usually only as a footnote in the media. The focus must shift.
Parents of young children, please pay attention.
Almost all addicts will trace their addiction back to their upbringing, to their family situations (for those that actually had parents around), to the amount of love they received from their parents, and how society treated them. It certainly was true for me.
Let me ask you: do you talk with your children or do you talk at them? Do you give them hugs and kisses or do you emotionally, physically and/or sexually abuse them? Do you listen to them when they show no interest in school, or do you shout at them and punish them? Do you try to help them be better persons, or do you constantly put them down and tell them they’re worthless? Do you demand that they respect you, or have you actually earned their respect through your own actions? Do you set a good example for them by your own actions, or do you tell them constantly to do things that you yourself cannot and do not want to do? Do you constantly give them money and ‘things’ instead of love, understanding, compassion and acceptance?
All children are the sum of the characters of those who raised them. Kids imitate what they see around them till the age of five, and after that, it’s over – their basic characteristics have been formulated and whatever changes or is added over the decades is minimal. Your actions are responsible for their welfare. No child is born an addict, nor are their friends and local drug dealers at fault. No drug addict ever became one because of “curiosity" or for “fun". Drug users do it for fun (that includes all of you who use one of the most lethal drugs, alcohol.) Drug addicts are human beings with a chronic incurable illness that must be fought until the day they die.
So the next time your child has a problem, try to listen to the child, don’t just sit there and tell what to do or put them down. And if the child can’t talk to you, take them to someone who will be able to open them up, such as a trusted friend or a specialised psychologist. You might just save their life.
P.S. The next time you have an urge to waste your money on useless material objects, give it to the Ayia Skepi Therapeutic Community here in Cyprus. Were it not for them, I’d be dead now.
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2004
Living with heroin
By Alexia Saoulli
(archive article - Sunday, February 29, 2004)
Alexi David is a 26-year-old man suffering from a chronic incurable illness. He is a former heroin addict and this is his story.
NINE years ago, Alexi decided to destroy himself. It didn’t feel like a conscious decision, but in reality that’s what it was, he admits today.
Born on March 8, 1977 in Cyprus, he moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1984 with his parents and older sister. He was seven years old and already unsure of himself and insecure. He remembers feelings pangs of intense loneliness at school and not knowing why.
Although Alexi did not want to go into his family background into detail, it is apparent he comes from a disruptive home. In his own words, “no junkie has a good upbringing". His parents, now recently divorced, fought a lot and Alexi was either ignored or smothered with affection.
When he arrived in America, things became worse and his classmates alienated him because he was different. “I was called names like Greasy Greek". The only good thing he refers to back then was his music, and he started playing the electric bass guitar at the age of 10.
Alexi’s drug addiction began in August 1993.
“It was the first time I ever got drunk. I was 16 and in that moment, even at a low level of maturity I said this is it; this is what I want to do the rest of my life. I want to be fucked up. I want to be high. That’s it. This works. Because I was too immature to know better ways to deal with the situation," he said.
From that moment on, things only got worse. “From there it’s a very slow progression, like it is for any addict until they find a drug of their choice and off they go."
Alexi tried everything, from marijuana, to pills, to cocaine, until in the spring of 1995 he met his favourite substance: heroin.
“Heroin basically dulls any physical and emotional pain you have. Dead. When I say dead I mean the most intense kind of apathy in the world. You couldn’t give a damn what’s happening to anyone around you. You don’t care about anyone really. You think you do, but in an immature childish kind of way. But you really don’t care about anyone."
Yet surely most people, no matter how much they hate themselves, have heard frightening stories about heroin and dare not try it for fear of becoming addicted?
“It didn’t matter at that point," he said. “If someone has made up their mind that they don’t care about themselves and they want to harm themselves from a young age, all those things are irrelevant.
“I was angry with myself, with the world, with everything and I didn’t know how to deal with the anger. The heroin calms you."
Within a few years he had metaphorically become the very same “greasy" Greek his former classmates had mocked. As a heroin addict he rarely washed and didn’t care about anything but his next hit. Old photographs depict a dishevelled young man with a vacant gaze, not the aspiring musician with a future that he is today.
Initially he started snorting heroin, but within three years he was injecting. In New York, heroin cost him $10 a dose. Depending on the purity of the stuff he used between one and five doses daily. At first, he supported his habits with odd jobs and music gigs, but before long he started stealing.
“I started to steal from anybody. I’d steal cash from handbags, from shops, from anywhere. I also started pawning my own stuff. When you start doing those things you know it’s getting bad because you’re getting really, really desperate," he said.
“You feel dirty, bad, ashamed, worthless, ugly and useless all the time.
“At first, when you become an addict everything is nice and sweet and you’re very much living in euphoria. But after a few years things change and you start to take heroin so as not to get sick (withdrawal symptoms). You don’t get that same psychological high and so your negative feelings get stronger and with them your addiction gets worse.
“All the negative things in life get worse and keep piling up and up and you just can’t deal with it," he said.
In 1998, Alexi joined a methadone clinic to come off the heroin, although he had no genuine intention of getting clean. Methadone is usually just a heroin addict’s way of not getting sick and being able to combine the two addictions simultaneously, he said.
In 1999, he came to Cyprus for a holiday, and supposedly to get off his methadone addiction. Initially he went to psychiatrists for help but before long they had him addicted to prescription medication. “They were so easy to get. You just had to say you weren’t sleeping and they’d give you a box of valium," he said.
This only made things worse, as he started to abuse combinations of legal drugs. In no time, he was having fits of paranoia and violence, to the point where he took knives out on his mother. In March 2000, he had his worse overdose. He was found in a coma outside a Nicosia coffee shop and rushed to hospital. The doctors said he wouldn’t make it, but miraculously he woke up. Instead of being happy to be alive, he was angry to have messed up his high and discharged himself immediately. By the end of April, his parents took out a court order and had him put in the Athalassa psychiatric institution for a month. When he was discharged they took him to the Ayia Skepi Therapeutic Community.
“I agreed to go for a week and stayed two years. If it hadn’t been for Ayia Skepi I would be dead."
Alexi says his stay at Ayia Skepi was psychologically gruelling, but that it is the only way to recover from heroin addiction. During his time there, he learned how to communicate with others and to ask for help. Group therapy, gardening, sports and kitchen duties are all part of the programme, he said. Eventually, the patients are allowed day passes and even 24-hour passes. They are also sent out to work. This way they are reintegrated back into society slowly, he said.
Alexi recognises he has an addictive personality and swings from extremes. Sometimes even now he feels lonely and shuts himself off from the world for a few days to stay at home and compose as well as play the upright bass. At first he was very angry with his parents, but now he has come to terms with their parenting techniques and that they too, like him, have faults.
Alexi battles his addiction every day by fighting small things that could lead to a relapse, such as putting off goals he has set for himself. What saved him, for example, was his love of music, both performing and composing. “You need to have a motive. You have to want to get clean for yourself. You have to ask yourself, do I want to live? If I do, why? What is the benefit of a clean life? When you find the answer, you have to cling to that."
Alexi says he’s OK with talking about his addiction. “It’s one of the tricks with quitting heroin and staying off it because a lot of your addiction is born out of fear. Fear of who are; to be ashamed of yourself. Most of my life I was ashamed of myself.
“Every time I do something like this I fight my fears. I’m not scared to show who I am. This is who I am my faults and my good points. That’s very, very important in the recovery. You mustn’t be scared. You have to fight your fears. If you let them take over you’re finished. That’s a very important point. I don’t need to take dope to talk to a girl, or to talk on stage or to meet new people," he said.
But life as a clean junkie is not all rosy. “I don’t have a big house, a lot of money or someone to love me. But I do have little things like my own place, I earn money from gigs that I don’t have to spend on drugs and people respect me. For once, people look up to me," he said.
Nevertheless he still keeps a reality check on the situation and tells himself it’s never over and there is no one cure. It is a constant battle that he must face.
Despite all this, he still feels stronger because of his addiction, and all that his recovery has taught him. And, besides, as he himself says: “Life’s a pain in the arse, but it’s worth trying."
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2004
Escaping from addiction: family and friends have been invaluable
(archive article - Sunday, March 7, 2004)
I would like to thank you for taking the time to interview me and for your interest in my story (‘Living with heroin’, Sunday Mail, February 29). I am very glad to have had the chance to share my experience of drug addiction with the public and I hope that it helps others.
I would, however, like to clarify a couple of points, which may be misinterpreted and viewed in a hurtful way.
To those who don’t know me well, “I don’t have… someone to love me", which lightly refers to not having a girlfriend, could be taken to mean that I am not loved by anyone – not even friends or family. Quite the contrary, my friends and family have shown immense love for me and have supported me from the beginning of my addiction until this day, even through the toughest of times.
In regards to my family upbringing, I cannot say I was “ignored". Of course, my family had problems, which I chose not to discuss in public, but my parents never ignored me. I realise that by not going into detail on this matter, many readers may assume I was physically and mentally abused, or hated. My parents never did anything to me with bad intent. They made mistakes, like we all do. They tried to be good parents to the best of their ability and after my recovery they tried even harder to deal with their own flaws.
In fact, my relationship with my family is now the healthiest it has ever been, and that is because in order to overcome my drug addiction we all learned to speak openly and honestly about the things that were hurting us. It is rare for parents to be as supportive and courageous as mine have been, and this is one of the most important parts of drug rehabilitation. Parents have to stand by their children and love them through the good times, but, most importantly, through the worst of times.
Again, thank you for your support, and I hope that an open discussion of drug addiction in Cyprus will continue in all forums.
Alexi David, Nicosia
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2004
Wrong way to go about helping addicts
(archive article - Sunday, April 24, 2005)
It seems to me like the new fad is wanting to “help" junkies/drug addicts. It's all over the media. That and the BMW that is being given away.
If you have to want an expensive car in return for giving a few pounds to Ayia Skepi, then you have totally missed the point.
Alexis Lambros David
Heroin Addict, clean since May 2000 of Heroin, etc.
Part of Ayia Skepi May 2000-September 2002
"Life does not always go in a straight line"
Dr. Byron David (1944-2003)