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making changes

May, 2006

On a Saturday night, an old warehouse is transformed. Coloured lights flash and electronic music pulses through the space. The crowd is wild tonight, the manic energy of the dancers almost tangible.

In one corner, a youth stands, waiting. Unobtrusive and almost a shadow, the only indication of his presence is the constant stream of people who make their way over to him. A few quick words, an exchange of money and the deal is done: the youth produces a single white pill and slips it into the hand of his eager customer.

It is a scene characteristic of the ‘raves’ that are so popular amongst young adults, where the music and darkness act as a veil for recreational drug use – and abuse.

Enter Steve Adams*. To everyone, he is the typical university student, working hard to meet the demands of his course. He is caring, devoted to his family and his likeable manner endears him to everyone he meets.

However, just a few years ago, he was a different person. Drugs were his life, and not much else mattered.

Steve’s descent into drugs started with his inability to cope with pressure.

“I was twenty. I had just broken up with my girlfriend. We’d been together for four years… it was her decision, not mine, and I was completely shattered,” he recalls.

To try and escape from the pain of the break-up, Steve decided that he wanted to change himself and try something new. Although he was not really interested in going out to parties, he agreed to accompany some friends to a rave.

That decision was to change his life. It was at this party that he first tried a ‘pill’, what he now knows was the amphetamine-laden Ecstacy.

“It rocked my world. I was blown away,” he says, recalling that first time. “You just love everything… you’re content, and that’s what got me taking them.”

Given his depressed state at the time, he craved that happiness and contentment that he felt after trying Ecstacy. He initially restricted himself to that particular drug, but eventually grew curious about other drugs.

Ironically, his reluctance to try anything else was because he was afraid of getting addicted.  Despite this, soon he was using speed, as well as cocaine on occasion.

He says that what made drugs so appealing were their psychological effects. For someone who had largely been a recluse and worried about life, the boost in confidence and the ability to just let go while under the influence were extremely attractive.

“The effect you wanted depended on the drug. Like coke (cocaine) and whipper (amphetamine)… Snorting just that one line of coke could make you feel ten foot tall and bullet-proof. You’d have all the confidence in the world. Whipper… it doesn’t matter how crap things are around you, you can handle it,” he explains.

With the increased drug usage came more raves. Even though the prices were enough to put him off going out too much, he would go whenever possible.

Going out as often as he did, Steve quickly established himself and made friends. While a number of them regarded him as just another raver, some approached him for drugs.

“Drugs would affect me intensely, see, so I’d get really plastered. And everyone wanted to know who I was, and if I was that busted up, where I was getting my stuff from.”

This marked Steve’s entry into dealing. He would buy drugs cheaply in bulk, and earn a tidy profit from the sale. The money went into financing his own drug needs

He says that was the time when he realised that he was truly addicted.

No longer able to go without drugs, he was dependent on dealing to pay for his addiction. The fact that drugs were constantly available only compounded his problem. He was already using about $500 worth of drugs a day just to cope with stress.

“I couldn’t cope. I was taking way more than I should have… sleeping maybe three nights a week, getting on the rest of the time,” he says.

With everything around him growing worse, he completely submerged himself in drugs, abusing them to a point where he could not care about the consequences.

“When you abuse drugs, you start taking risks… you think, well, nothing’s happened so far… so you drive a little faster, be a little less subtle with what you do,” he says, reflecting on the events that eventually led to him being arrested.

Acting on a tip-off, the organised crime squad raided his house. It was not the first time he had been caught, and he ended up being sentenced to 21 months in prison.

He says that was probably the lowest point in his life. However, that was also the time that Steve found out that his girlfriend was pregnant.  

The news was what he needed to turn himself around. The time in prison gave him the opportunity to think about his life without the cushion of drugs. For the first time he felt as if he had something to focus on apart from himself.

It was then that he decided to try and take control of his life. He studied math while he was in prison, and once he was released on parole, he went on to enrol in a university degree.

Steve says that the fact that he was released from prison around the same time as his son’s birth is a constant reminder of his responsibilities, not just to his family but to himself as well.

“It’s kind of a reminder…my son’s age is roughly the amount of time since I got out of prison, so it’s kind of a reminder to me to stay on top of things, and not to let anything degrade.”

Still, it hasn’t been easy. Steve still uses drugs, but rarely. He does not believe that it is possible to stop being an addict, but what is certain is that the impulse to abuse drugs can be controlled.

“You never get over an addiction; you just learn to manage one,” he says.

However, he admits that there are still times when he cannot cope.

Recent traumatic events, such as the death of a friend’s child, have affected Steve deeply. For a brief time, he went back to the cycle of using drugs all the time, just to make it through what he says has been one of the most difficult times since he got out of prison.

“There was no way I was going without, because this particular incident really, really rattled me… having kids myself, and being as close to my friend as I am, I took it really, really badly… that’s how we dealt with it, and it’s dealt with now. And I don’t feel the need to continue, but back in the day…” he says.

This shows that Steve is just as vulnerable as he is strong. He is not the role-model that some would have him be, because he knows he can fall. He is determined to do the best he can, and makes no apologies for being flawed.

His story could be anyone’s story. That is what makes him undeniably human.



© Marziya Mohammedali, 2001-2013