I RAN ACROSS THE SAHARA TO GET OVER MY COCAINE ADDICTION

At the height of my cocaine addiction, I didn’t want to go on living. At one point, I found myself hooked up to a drip in hospital, having pushed myself to the brink.

I thought I’d overdosed and called 999 thinking I was about to die. Looking back, my body had just had enough of two years of near-constant abuse. 

I had started taking it on nights out with friends towards the end of my time at university; a casual user getting through half a gram, once a week. People think of cocaine as a drug taken to boost confidence and energy levels, and that’s how my experience began. It was part of the night life and readily available.

But by my mid 20s I was taking two grams a day, five days a week, spending £200 a time. I was still living with my parents after finishing uni, but was hiding myself away in my bedroom taking coke alone. My life revolved around the drug.

I was paranoid, actively avoiding social situations and unable to look people in the eye. When I wasn’t using, I was angry and confused. Weak, tired and on edge, my anxiety was through the roof. The concept of quitting was so out of reach it felt like I’d fallen into a hole I had no chance of climbing out of.

I was managing to hold down a decently paid job in sales but I was wiping out my salary, maxing out credit cards and borrowing from friends and family, accumulating astronomical debts. I was crippling myself in every way.

Being £20,000 in the red didn’t register. By that point my life was worthless. I felt like I couldn’t carry on living and I had no self value. The height of my addiction lasted about two years and came to a head that night in hospital.

Seeing their son being helped into the back of an ambulance by paramedics was hugely upsetting for my parents. They knew about my problems, having confronted me over my behaviour. I was living at home but had been popping out at odd times, borrowing money and acting in a distant way.

When they asked what was going on I told the truth. They were massively supportive but within a week of telling them I was back using. This time, things needed to change.

Being in hospital was the catalyst to finally seek help. When I was discharged I booked in with a therapist. But I still wasn’t being honest with myself about the scale of my problem. I was paying £150 and travelling for an hour just to lie to him and downplay the extent of my addiction for sixty minutes.

By this point my relationships with my parents and friends were strained. They were desperate to help me but I didn’t want to be helped. Rehab had always been the first thing people suggested when we’d discussed my addiction in the past but cost – the best part of £10,000 – was prohibitive.

Now, it seemed like the only way I was going to get clean, so, with my parents’ help, I booked into The Haynes Clinic in the countryside outside Bedford for 28 days.

A month is the minimum recommended time as it gives you the strongest chance of success. Two weeks generally ends in failure. Before arriving I thought I was the only one going through this experience, but I met 30 other people like me.

The first step of recovery is admitting you are powerless. If you’re an alcoholic you can’t have that first drink, if you’re a cocaine addict you can’t have that one line. It’s at meetings going on every day in places you’d least expect, where that message is repeated again and again.

Since leaving rehab four years ago I’ve been going along to an unassuming church in Sevenoaks. I still go every Tuesday night – I have to. The sessions give me structure and support while allowing me to use my experience to help others.

Running has been my other crutch. I started after leaving rehab and within a month was taking on the London Marathon. Out of shape and clueless, I covered the 26 miles in five hours. Within a month I’d run Manchester and Brighton. Less than two years later I managed to run a marathon every week throughout 2022, raising more than £8,000 for charity in the process.

During the challenge I’d spent a lot of time speaking to my sponsor, a fellow addict from Cocaine Anonymous who had been in recovery for longer than me, about the motivations behind it. It was crucial to ensure it was for the right reasons and not just feeding my ego or replacing one addiction with another.

The fundraiser was one thing but the sense of achieving something I’d never thought possible and proving to people that I had come back from the brink were massive factors.

It felt like I’d been performing every week so after the final run of the year it was a huge comedown. I spent 2023 training and getting my time down but needed a new challenge. That’s when I set my sights on the week-long, 252km Marathon des Sables, known as the toughest race on the planet.

It was as I reached the end of the longest day, known as La Longue or, simply, The Long, that I  felt I was finished. There was no water left and a mile to go until the penultimate, 60km checkpoint.

Running for eight hours across the Sahara, through infernal temperatures soaring to 52 degrees, had left me unable to walk in a straight line but still with the prospect of 25 hellish kilometres through dried up riverbeds and craggy valleys before anything resembling rest. I was at my lowest point.

But it was also the moment memories of the far darker part of my life came to the rescue.

As I stumbled on that day in the desert it was how far I’d come that pulled me through. I was in a really bad place but was thinking back all the time. Five years earlier cocaine controlled my life and I didn’t care if I lived or died. Maybe La Longue wasn’t so bad after all.

At the checkpoint I was taken to the medical tent, given sugar and eventually allowed to continue.  By the end of the week I’d completed the race in 31 hours and 50 minutes. That put me 47th out of 900 runners and made me the 10th fastest UK athlete.

Now, aged 31, I’m living back at home with my parents, Trev and Lynne, and our cavapoo, Bobby, and working in sales. Throughout my troubles and recovery, I’ve held on to my job. My boss has been hugely understanding, especially while I was in rehab. The first half of my 20s was ruled by cocaine.

I had to cut a lot of people out but now I’m clean I can really live again. I still go out, but rarely. Everyone around me knows what I’ve been through and doesn’t pressure me to go out at all. I’ve embraced complete sobriety, am halfway towards a house deposit and minutes off running a marathon in under three hours. I’m now looking to take on 100-mile ultramarathons.

If you are experiencing drug addiction, contact ukna.org

As told to Ed McConnell

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