Names have been changed.
Abstinence is the first, and often the least difficult step in the journey to recovery from drug and/or substance dependence. Psychosocial rehabilitation focusses on behaviour modification, learning new coping strategies when stress and anxiety are overwhelming as well as coming to terms with having to disassociate from friends still engaged in drug using activities.
Some weeks ago Chad received a non-custodial sentence for a range of drug-related offences. The decision handed down meant we could continue to work with Chad on many issues that included, general health, budgeting, parenting skills and personal hygiene.
We meet at a local community centre and Chad was waiting today, as he has done previously, with a cup of coffee in hand and a smile to brighten anyone’s day. He looked different today. It took a few minutes to realise that he was having difficulty drinking. His face seemed swollen, parts of it quite red.
“Can you tell me what’s going on for you right now, Chad?”
“Ah mate, you wouldn’t believe the pain. It’s me teeth, I can’t hardly eat. Me missus told me to go to Emergency Department (ED) but we don’t have no money for the bus. Pay day’s not till Thursday. That’s **–** four days away.”
“I can see your face is swollen.”
“Yeah, me whole ** –** face is **–** throbbing.”
“Have you rung the community dental clinic yet?”
“Me missus did but she couldn’t get through, it was no good.”
The community dental clinic was a block away from where we meet. We were given a 1300 number that triages patients. Despite my being able to transport him to whichever clinic could fit him in, the first appointment available is next Tuesday.
“You’re kidding me!” I had to agree, the system is a joke.
Chronic drug use depletes the body of natural nutrients and most people who use illicit drugs do not have good eating habits. Consequently their natural immunity is low and the body’s defence system struggles to kick in when they get sick.
Chad presents well considering he has been a polydrug user for more than twenty years. He doesn’t talk about his health because he is ashamed of the seen and unseen consequences of drug use. He has sought dental treatment for chipped, split and broken teeth but today he describes symptoms of an abscess in the gum where a tooth has broken off. He doesn’t talk about his symptoms and when he does he minimises them because he feels guilty that he is taking up someone else’s time to help fix something he caused. He receives care at the emergency department at the local base hospital, and that usually involved stitches.
His bleeding gums, receding gum line and dental hygiene have improved since he stopped using methamphetamine (ice), he now brushes his teeth regularly. Nutrition was a low priority in Chad’s life that cycled through years cravings, the chase, shooting up, the high, the social interaction, the come down, sleeping, waking and starting all over again.
Typically his diet has been any food with a high sugar content: biscuits, confectionery, high energy carbonated drinks and coffee and tea with up to eight teasupoons of sugar. Eating on the run and sugary foods have kept Chad going through two decades.
Now we talk about cooking?
“You mean a meal?” He grinned.
“Yes Chad, a meal, real food, veggies and meat?”
“I didn’t used to **–** cook because I’d probably have burned the house down. It takes too much time, mate. Nah, I just grabbed whatever I could and kept going. Anything to give me a boost.”
“But things have changed now for you.”
“Yeah they have and me missus is a chef so I eat good now.”
Chad has agreed to see the community doctor tomorrow for a check up and perhaps a course of antibiotics (suspected abscess) to hold him until next Tuesday when he can see the community dentist.
Recovery is a process and it reminds me of the quote: Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising up every time we fail (Ralph Waldo Emerson).