Content warning: This story contains references to suicide and drug and alcohol consumption.
Max is a 29-year-old queer trans man, who has been drug and alcohol free for a little over 8 months. Here, he shares his story with Pivot Point.
Thanks for chatting with us Max! What made you decide to make a change?
Well, I think I know I needed to make a change for a long time, but it became quite apparent in 2018 when I was living in overseas with my now ex-fiancé and her child. I had known I had a difficult relationship with alcohol but suppressed the thoughts and shame of it all and kept drinking to deal with my problem. In hindsight, that sounds a tad silly, drinking to run away from your situation of drinking.
In 2018, my now ex-partner and I had applied for a visa we knew we wouldn’t get, but we had no other choices at that stage. After being denied the visa, I still flew back to see them for six months. I couldn’t work for the six months that I was there, but I would take her child to and from school, help with their schoolwork and tidy the house or try and find something to fill my day. By the end of that last six months, I knew my relationship wasn’t working anymore and that I was drinking more beer than a usual person would because I think deep down, I had to end the relationship.
I eventually broke up with her and turned to drink, weed and then went on a long-term cocaine binge until January 2020. I broke up with her via text message on cocaine because I was so gutless at the time.
My mental health deteriorated rapidly, but on the outside, I just kind of kept myself looking like I was okay. In late 2019 I had organised to see a psychologist for my referral for chest surgery. I had my appointment in January 2020 with the most fantastic psychologist I have ever had. I walked in with my usual smile and masked for the first 20 minutes, and then basically broke down into tears about my failures and how shit I felt. I think my psychologist wasn’t expecting that to happen, and I don’t think I was either.
For the next few months, I continued to see my psychologist, as I was having problems with my mental health, family life, workplace and setting boundaries for people. This period is quite a blur; I had drunk a lot of alcohol after work or on my days off. I’d smoke heaps of pot; I rarely ate and worked a job that I feel had taken advantage of me. I admitted myself to hospital as a few times because of a few suicide attempts.
My first attempt at abstinence didn’t go so well. I didn’t have supportive people around me, and I was away from my psychologist. I was about 49 days abstinent when I turned back to alcohol. I had a stubby and half a long neck of beer, I poured the other half of the long neck down the sink in disgust.
The next week is a blur. I got some benzos, and took a whole heap of them over three days. I blacked out with what I feel was this “Me, Myself and Max” moment and so much anger towards so many people came out, and unfortunately, I used social media to relinquish all this anger. My psychiatrist later told me that I had overdosed on benzos, which I didn’t even know you could do.
I attempted suicide, and was taken to hospital. I somehow managed to get discharged, until a few mates spoke with police and had me sectioned (under the Mental Health Act) a day or so later. I was eventually released into my grandparent’s care, down on the south coast. I began to rebuild myself slowly with their help and a lot of love from a whole lot of people that I had indeed taken for granted. I have a job, I have my pet birds and I play soccer.
What’s been the hardest thing about not using drugs or alcohol?
Probably the small joys of using, that feeling of your brain getting that fix and being able to fully relax for a small moment in time. I also think that when I do have panic attacks or my mind wanders off into this tangent of over thinking, it really gets hard not to run and pick up a vice that I have used for so many years.
What’s been the best thing about not using drugs or alcohol?
I think realising how clear my brain feels, being able to sit in the emotional state I am in and then working on how to better deal with it. Understanding that I am a work in progress and that I am constantly changing. Knowing that I am not the only one to feel an immense amount of shame over my past. Knowing that the stigma of addicts and addiction is changing.
This journey is obviously a lot of hard work, how do you reward yourself?
I have monthly AA (alcoholics anonymous) tokens that I give myself. It might be silly, but I bought them in that first attempt of abstinence, and it means more than just the month of reaching my goals. The tokens remind me how long ago I had been at my absolute worst and the distance between it.
Have there been any support services/apps etc that have helped you on your journey? Have they been inclusive and accepting?
Yes, I had an excellent discharge aftercare plan from the hospital that I followed. I probably wouldn’t have, but it was mandatory. I was being hounded to get into rehab by my family but, with COVID-19 being crazy at that time of the year, it wasn’t possible to be admitted. So instead I followed my care plan and saw my social worker, a drug and alcohol counsellor, and I finally spoke to a psychiatrist and was formally given a few diagnoses.
I have begun working on my traumas to understand myself better and how and why I react in a certain way. I am learning how to be better at being present.
I also have attended AA via zoom and in person. I used to be hesitant about them as I am not religious, but it’s not a religious thing. It’s a group of like-minded people talking about their experiences and not being judged by those experiences. During my first meeting on zoom, I was overwhelmed that I had finally found people who understood the exact nature of my struggle. Not one of them judged me.
I have been a bit slack at getting my ass to another meeting. I am writing that so I hold myself accountable and go again.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about cutting down or stopping using drugs and alcohol?
I used to believe that I was in control of my patterns of use. I never really got too sloppy when I would get fucked up around people, or so I thought. My advice would be to recognise when you are using alcohol or other drugs to create an endless, vicious cycle of self-hate, and you’re not as in control as you thought you were. You’re keeping yourself stagnant in a stale pond with no freshwater. Give yourself some freshwater, no one else is going to do it.
Take every step slowly, minute to minute, hour to hour and then day by day. Fill in those minutes with proper self-care. Get your ass to a GP, get a mental health plan, and those subsidised sessions with a psychologist or mental health professional.
Make friends with people who don’t use alcohol and other drugs (especially those who have been through similar experiences), listen to evidence-based discussions on your favourite podcasting app. Even following all the little abstinence Instagram pages help, plus they’re genuinely funny, because they are made by people making changes to their relationship alcohol and other drugs for people going through the same or similar journeys. It’s great to have a bit of light-hearted fun in what feels like the beginning of a long dark tunnel. You’ve got this!
ACON provides confidential FREE short-term counselling (up to 12 sessions) for sexuality and gender diverse people and people with HIV seeking support in relation to their use of alcohol and other drugs. Please call (02) 9206 2000 or submit an enquiry. You can also contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service, or check out Pivot Point’s service directory.
ACON also provides confidential counselling to people in our communities seeking support in relation to their mental health and wellbeing. Contact ACON on (02) 9206 2000 or 1800 063 060 or visit acon.org.au
You can also get in contact with other mental health services including:
QLife on 1800 184 527
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Lifeline on 13 11 14.