April 30, 2019

Drug use and warning signs

Ruan's story about his red flags

It was 10am on a Monday morning when I came out of my drug fueled haze. I was in a foreign room. I was in in one of those houses where everything matched, a designer home: the chairs matched the sofa, the artwork looked perfect against the modern brick walls. Everything had its place.  Then I noticed the people and I felt that they didn’t match at all. It was a motley crew to say the least. I listened to the things they were saying and the things they thought were funny and I suddenly realised, these aren’t my people.

I got up, took my stuff and walked out the door.

I had been choosing to hang with people who wouldn’t judge me for using drugs but these people weren’t really my friends.  I had been lying to my real friends about what I was up to. I had chosen to ignore the little red flags that life held up every time I broke one of my rules around my drug use.

It was time to reassess and make some urgent changes before it became too hard turn around.

Red flags are warning signs. They are little moments or realisations. Red flags are life’s way of reminding us that we’ve made the wrong decision and that we need to learn from our decisions and change our behaviour. When it comes to drug use, red flags might emerge when we let go of everyday responsibilities and priorities in the pursuit of fun.

My red flags

One of my first red flags was when I missed a close friend’s birthday. It had been organised for months, we had planned it together and yet the night before the big event, I received a text from someone inviting me to a “gathering”.  I told myself, “I’ll just go for a few hours and be in bed by 1am”.

Needless to say, once the dopamine hit and things were happening it was 10am before I knew it.

My friend’s birthday was that day. I couldn’t face a crowd of people looking the way that I did but I also didn’t want to let my friend down.  I decided to lie.  I told him I had suddenly been hit with a terrible stomach bug and that I wouldn’t make it. My friend is a legend and he understood. He didn’t make a big deal out of it, he even sent me photos of how it all went and kept me posted throughout the day. I felt terrible having lied to him and having missed his big day.  I promised myself it would never happen again, but it did. It happened many more times with many more friends and before too long the only people I had left to hang out with were people I got high with. I was lonely and stuck in a rut and it became hard not ‘to get on it’ because everyone I knew was using daily.

Ignoring my red flags cost me dearly and it took a lot of hard work, time and rebuilding of trust to get reconnected with my friends again but that’s a story for another day.

My red flags were calling in sick for work on a Monday because I was too tired from partying the whole weekend. Or not paying rent and bills on time because I spent my money on “other things”.  Or not cleaning my house, walking my dog, calling my family or going to the gym… the list goes on.

When friends talk to me about their use, I try to help them recognise any red flags that may indicate that their use is increasing and starting to have negative impacts. I encourage my friends to think about, what’s important to them, what their values are and what rules and boundaries they will need to put in place.

Rules and boundaries are important in that they help us to regulate our behaviour and assist to navigate our lives in a way that is consistent with our values. Values make us who we are and help us live happily and remain our authentic selves.

For me, living in sync with my values means not letting other people or myself down. It’s also important for me to always endeavour to reach for my goals first and foremost.

My rules and boundaries

I’ve put some rules and boundaries around my drug use to help me ensure that I am living in line with values and priorities. Some of these include:

  • I will not use drugs if I have work the next day or in the next few days,
  • I will not use drugs if I have any important engagements coming up like a friend/family member’s birthday,
  • I will only use if I have paid all my bills and can truly afford it.

I respect my rules and boundaries always and if I slip up I recognise red flags as indicators that I need to reassess things. I pay rent and bills on time, I don’t miss work unless I am truly sick, I do what I say and keep my promises. Abiding by my rules and boundaries enables me to live my life as anyone else would regardless of what I get up to for fun.

I’m not perfect, far from it, and I make mistakes all the time but what’s important is that I learn from my mistakes and try to avoid making the same ones twice.

This story was contributed by Ruan, a gay male community member who is passionate about helping his peers and friends to reduce the harms associated with drug use. If you would like to contribute a story to Pivot Point get in touch with aod@acon.org.au

If you’ve noticed a few red flags recently, consider reaching out to someone to chat or have a think about calling ACON or another LGBTI inclusive service.