It is my great pleasure to introduce Charles Johnston – today’s Face of Recovery, who has graciously agreed to share his story of heroin addiction and recovery.
There is a great deal of confusion, stigma, shame and discrimination surrounding addiction and addiction treatment and recovery. Yet those who have the chronic, often relapsing brain disease of addiction and are in recovery live healthy, productive, engaged lives — the same kinds of lives as people who do not have this disease. But all the words and definitions and explanations in the world are not as powerful as the people themselves. To that end, we are grateful to the people in recovery who have decided to share their experiences so that we all may put a Face to Addiction Treatment and Recovery.
Please meet Charles Johnston, Co-founder and Treatment Coordinator for Ibogaine University – Today’s Face of Addiction Recovery.
How did your addiction start?
I grew up very religious. I was taught to avoid alcohol, drugs, and anything that would deter me from focusing on my religion. However, many of my family members, although they had grown up this way, had their own relationships with different types of drugs, mostly psychedelic drugs, but also some of them were into hard stuff.
I made it through high school without ever drinking alcohol or using any drugs. However, after high school, and after leaving home and being on my own for a few years, I began to hang around different types of people, and, after some time, I started partying and I had my first experiences with alcohol.
Being a curious person, and having friends around me that were experimenting with other types of drugs, I began trying many different substances. Mostly different psychedelic drugs and Marijuana.
I was under the impression that most of these drugs were harmless. And, although the argument can be made for this, these drugs also led me down the path to trying other drugs.
By about 2009 I had tried about everything. Cocaine, Meth, Ecstasy, and although I enjoyed using these drugs, I never felt addicted, and I would use one substance or another about once a week. I was in college, being productive, and it was just part of my routine. I always felt like I was a very strong willed person and I never felt like I could be addicted to a substance, I wouldn’t let myself.
Then I tried heroin.
It started small, but my addiction grew rapidly. Within a month I was hooked.
Then it began taking over my life.
I began using needles to shoot up, missing classes, lost jobs, ruined relationships, and selling drugs in order to make enough money to use. My life began to be all about heroin. It had taken over my mind and my body. I was using everyday. I couldn’t stop, even though I tried countless times.
What was the turning point for you – what made you want to get sober?
Overdose is very common with heroin addicts. My turning point was my second overdose.
I went to a friends house to shoot up. With heroin, it’s common knowledge that after you shoot up, if you feel tingly all over, then you are in trouble.
We sat on the floor, and I prepared my shot. After I took the drug, I noticed my entire body getting tingly.
The next thing I remember I was lying on the floor with my friend working as hard as he could to resuscitate me. I had been out for about 15 minutes.
And this wasn’t the first time. This was my second time overdosing.
After 2 of these similar experiences I knew that I was going to die if I didn’t stop using heroin. Next time, I probably wouldn’t wake up.
What was your initial treatment?
I had tried quitting cold turkey before and it never worked for me. The withdrawals, the pain, anxiety, and depression. It was really hard to go through all that. I had gone weeks, a few times even months, without using, but it never worked out and even in those instances I was still using some substance to feel ok, whether it be alcohol, pot, or worse.
Friends were also a bad influence, and it’s hard to get rid of your bad friends when they seem to be your only friends.
I had been recently studying a drug called Ibogaine. Supposedly you could go down to Mexico, enter a treatment center, they would administer this Ibogaine to you, and it would take you through the withdrawal stages in about a 24 hour period. After that, you would be clean and have no withdrawals. It was basically the cure for heroin.
I really didn’t have any other choices. I didn’t want to die. I needed to quit. I had tried everything else. And I knew that inside myself I didn’t want to use, I wanted to accomplish major goals in my life. I wanted a new direction.
So, I sold all my remaining possessions, took the last of my money, and along with a student loan for my last semester of college, I had enough money to spend on a prayer–Ibogaine treatment.
My experience was similar to most people that have taken Ibogaine. I went through a very spiritual and exhausting psychedelic experience. I thought about my family, my friends, the people I had hurt, and mostly how much I had been hurting myself.
I thought about what I wanted to accomplish, what I needed to do to accomplish it, and I hoped this Ibogaine would actually do what I needed it to do.
After that experience, and a few days of recovery, it worked. I didn’t have withdrawals, I felt like a new person. I haven’t touched heroin since.
Do you do anything differently, today?
I was very much into fitness before this whole addiction experience. Even during my heroin use I would workout sporadically. Now I have a very concentrated focus on my physical health, working out, yoga, nutrition, anything I can to keep my mind focused on being something extraordinary. I know that focusing on these aspects will continue to help me stay off heroin while also respecting who I am.
What is your life like, now?
Well, after the Ibogaine experience I decided that was my life goal, to help others who needed help. So, along with a few other individuals that had been through the same experience as I had, I co-founded an Ibogaine treatment center so that other’s could find the strength I had found.
I finished my Bachelor’s degree from UCLA and I have, most importantly, stayed off opiates ever since.
I am only alive today because of these experiences. I don’t intend to ever use narcotics again.
Do you have anything you’d like to share with someone currently struggling with a substance abuse problem or an addiction? How about anything you’d like to share with their family or friends?
The only advice I have is, you need help. I know that if, during the early phases of using heroin use, if I had just been open about the seriousness of my addiction with my friends and family that were closest to me, I may not have sunk so deep into my addiction. Addiction makes you turn your back on those you love. If you can be open and get help from those around you, you may have a good chance at beating your addiction.
Find a treatment that works for you. It doesn’t matter what treatment, just find the one that works for you. Get off the drugs as fast as you can. It only takes one bad day and one bad decision to alter your life forever and the opposite is true also, so make the better choice for you.
What is the best part about your recovery?
Waking up and being free everyday to make my own decisions. This is by far the most important part of my recovery. I no longer have to ask a drug to make me happy, to turn to heroin before I can start my day, to take a pill before I can function. I make my own decisions, I control my own destiny.
Thank you so very much, Charles, for sharing your story, and CONGRATULATIONS on almost 2 years RECOVERY!
If you are interested in learning more about Charles, his experiences, his recovery and his Ibogaine Treatment method, visit Ibogaine University.com. Charles can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also wish to “meet” others sharing their recovery stories with BreakingTheCycles.com by clicking on this link, Faces of Recovery.