Recovering from addiction
By Kerry Hudson
Tom Huber, with his magnetic positive attitude and witty sense of humour, is the perfect advocate for people who think that giving up alcohol or drugs means giving up your personality too, he proves this is absolutely not the case.
He beams from ear to ear with perfect shiny whites and I can't help but say “You look far too healthy for someone who got through so much for so long.” Only thirty two, Tom battled alcohol, marijuana, heroin and crack cocaine for more than ten years. He has now been clean and sober for five. Today he has left work early as he is fighting a cold and I suggest we meet another day but he is adamant to tell his story, to shed some light on the disease that is addiction, and promote recovery.
Tom started to drink and smoke marijuana aged just eleven. He remembers being an anxious child and his mum would often go out and leave him on his own. Alcohol and weed, supplied by older brothers tended to fill the void.
At the age of fourteen he began noticing that he was getting obsessive and compulsive about drugs, always the one to do the maths; weight, cost etc, and with an urgency that was challenged by his friends, but Tom would tell himself “If I wanted to change this I could”.
By sixteen, he would drink and smoke weed first thing on his way to school, and began taking cocaine with friends at weekends.
Then by eighteen he was using heroin and crack, on top of everything else. Prior to this he would always tell himself “I'll draw the line at heroin” looking down on those that did. But during a drinking session in a pub with friends, one of them said “I know a guy that can get some brown” and heroin and crack cocaine are often smoked together.
'Gripped from the start'
Tom explains with wide eyes, the immediate sensation he felt from the first pipe “It was so intense it was actually frightening”. It gripped him right from the start, flooded any void or anxiety in his body. Minutes later he experienced an instant come down from the crack, and had to do another, with some heroin. Heroin eases the comedown of the crack which is why they're smoked together he tells me.
The following day, unable to make it home the night before, he woke in a drug den itching all over. He had no money left and for this reason the other people in the house were no longer interested in him anymore and so he left.
This became a regular night for Tom, and the gaps in between drug binges got smaller and smaller.
At home things were becoming unmanageable, he would drink daily to ease the withdrawal but would drink only lager and not spirits as he thought “I'm not a piss head”.
Drink and drugs would temporarily cloud Toms anxiety and shyness, but it would also take everything else. He was able to give everyone else what they wanted be it charm, laughter, sex, drugs, but he was empty inside. By now he was using every single day.
Eight years into “using” Tom described his life as negative and a series of lies. He stole cars to fund his habit, and the thought of getting caught added to his anxiety, enhancing withdrawal, the only thing he had to be proud of was that his friends were in prison but he hadn't been caught yet. He was good at lying and manipulation, of course he was, it's all he had left from what was once a charasmatic personality. Around this time he walked into a pub and a friend of his brothers, who was there in the early days of “playing” with drugs said “Oh Tom, you like like shit mate” But Tom couldn't see it, not even in the mirror, denial had got a hold over him.
Tom refers to his pattern of using as cross-addiction; he would quit drinking but use heroin in it's place, and visa versa. The thought of a life without both petrified him. He refused to listen to the voice within him telling him he had to stop, altogether, he would cloud it with more drink or drugs or both.
Twenty six years old he felt that he was a mere shell, depressed, no hope for the future, no hope for the day other than drinking or using, no identity other than the “junkie”, or the “piss head” he had once looked down on, promising himself he wouldn't never go that low. He would tell himself “There's always tomorrow” but that pain remover never came, only in the form of booze or drugs. He met his dad in a cafe, as usual, formulating lies or manipulating his own family to get some money for his habit. But this time Tom went to speak and something else came out. “Dad, I'm f***ed”. And those three words changed his life. Years of thick fog and heavy weight left his shoulders, in ten years he had never, ever admitted this to anyone else, not even himself.
On November 25th 2006, Tom admitted himself to Focus12, the centre where Russell Brand, Davinia McColl and Boy George are patrons, and began the twelve week intensive program.
He went in with little intention of completing the program, he simply couldn't imagine himself get clean. But then he started to feel a connection with the other clients and staff - who themselves had successfully been through recovery and could offer empathy and primary experience - that he hadn't felt before. He no longer felt isolated. His peers genuinely wanted him to get well, they showed him respect, they challenged him in a way that would motivate him, no one wanted to take from him, just give him the strength and faith he never had in himself. His initial response was to reject it, he was a stranger to this kind of support and didn't know how to handle it, but that little voice inside him urging him to give it a go, the voice that drink and drugs would silence, was becoming more present. He completed the program and six years later, he has still never picked up a drink or used drugs again.
Tom was offered an opportunity after he “graduated” from Focus12, to come back as a volunteer peer support worker, and Tom, who was struggling to get work due to his previous drink and drug problems accepted. With the support of the staff team Tom was able to study a Diploma in counselling and many secondary courses suitable to his role, now a fixed role at the centre. “They really believed in me, really supported me. I couldn't wait to work there full time, and give back what they'd given me. I love my job. It's hard work, and at times tiring, but being a part of people's recovery and seeing them get clean is the best feeling, even better than heroin, and lasts much longer than crack.”
Tom keeps himself drug free with the support of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. His job also plays a huge part in him remaining in sobriety. Everything he has now, his good health, his dream job, his amazing girlfriend, his supportive friends, his Dad who has stuck by him, are all products of him being clean and sober.
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