I’ve just come out of rehab and at 23, I’m finally beating my coke addiction

Meg became an addict after her boyfriend committed suicide in second year


Meg Swingler was a second year student at City of Bristol when her boyfriend committed suicide. She was 20, they were living together, and the subsequent grief pushed her into a life-changing cocaine addiction. Over the next three years she struggled with depression, attempted suicide, and at her worst was spending £400 a week on drugs before finally going to rehab. Now in her third year at University of South Wales, she told us how she overcame her addiction and rebuilt her life.

How did your addiction start?

This is a really difficult question. It started long before I thought it had. At first (pre rehab) I would have said it started when I was 18 and I got my first bar job. The friends I made there introduced me to cocaine and I thought it was the best thing in the world.

I started using coke most weekends, I loved the way it made me feel. I had found confidence, finally. I then met someone. We moved in with each other and although we were still using cocaine regularly I thought I had it under control. Sadly, the wonderful man I loved and shared my home with was deeply troubled and he committed suicide in January 2013. That’s when I started using almost every day. I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. If it hadn’t been for my wonderful loved ones, that’s when it would have ended. Instead that’s when I lost all control, that’s when it became a real issue.

That’s always been when I thought I “became an addict”. But since I’ve been through rehab I can look back and realise it started long before. I started smoking weed and drinking alcohol when I was around 13. I never saw that part of my life being a problem but looking back I see all the signs. I always used and drank until I was too pissed to drink or use anymore. I always found myself passing out somewhere or being sick. It wasn’t like normal teenage or student drinking.

Being an addict is all about the behaviours we have when we use and drink, not necessarily the drug itself. I feel it’s almost always been there, there has always been something in me searching for an escape, something wanting out.

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What did you take?

Almost everything. I took quite a lot of MDMA, pills, ketamine, magic mushrooms, M-Cat and occasionally would smoke weed. But cocaine was my favourite thing.

Coke made me feel confident, in a way I had never felt before. When I took it I felt like I could be part of other people’s conversation. It felt glamorous. Everything about it, I loved. But most of all, it made me forget all the shit I was feeling.

How often were you taking drugs and drinking?

I would drink pretty much every day and use whenever I could, sometimes every day. It would come in waves though depending on my mood. If I was low, I would use so much more.

In the height of my worst points – right after my partner took his life – I was probably using about ten grams a week, about £400 a week. That was at my very worst point. In more recent times, just before going to rehab, I was probably using about four grams a week at £80 a gram. I got into a couple thousand pounds worth of debt. I sold a lot of things to fund my habit. Things like my laptop, iPod, shoes.

Did you do it alone or with people?

Sometimes on my own. In fact, more so on my own. I would do it at home, even whilst just watching films on my laptop, which was the saddest thing. I would even do it at family dinners, where I would be sneaking off to the toilet.

When did you realise you were becoming dependent on it?

Just after I lost my partner. I very quickly realised I was using to not feel at all. I was depending on drugs and alcohol to get me through everything I was feeling. I was desperately sad, because of losing my partner in such a horrific way. I have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. I still suffer but I have now found my voice and know that, no matter what, I can call for help

So, have you always had an addictive personality?

Yes. Always. I have always had very compulsive and obsessive behaviours which often leads to addiction. I even remember wanting desperately to try anything that might make my world less dark.

Who knew about your addiction?

Most friends knew. I used it with them. They were all using it recreationally. I cut off my good friends who weren’t using, they were aware I was using but not aware to what extent. I became a crap friend to my good friends. I shut them out when they asked if I needed help, particularly after my partner died. I drove them away because, at the time, I didn’t want that sort of support.  My family didn’t know for quite a while.

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Did you try and hide it, then?

Yes. I lied and hid and played games. There were so many times when I would sneak off and pick up or take coke and no one would know about it but me, it felt like my little secret, part of me thought it was glamourous. Really I didn’t want anyone to know how bad it was, I was incredibly ashamed, I couldn’t bare people knowing that I wasn’t coping.

What was the breaking point for you?

It was last summer. I had sunk into the darkest depression I’ve ever felt. I had tried and tried again to stop using and kept failing, I was utterly exhausted. I couldn’t live with who I was, the things I’d done, what I’d become and what I might become. I wanted to take my own life so I took an overdose. Once I was physically good enough to leave hospital they let me go home, but I was still low, so I tried again.

That was my breaking point. I had nothing left to give. I had nothing to lose. My family found Gladstone’s (a rehabilitation clinic) and I went gladly.

You talk about when you had tried and failed to quit a few times before, what did you try to do to stop?

I tried loads of time while I was living at home. I would hide my bank cards or give my bank cards to my parents. I would delete dealers’ numbers but there would always be a way to get their number back. I still carried on going out but then, usually, immediately after a drink, I would start again. It was so readily available to me. So many friends had dealers’ numbers and dealers would drop it off to me. It was so easy.

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What is a cocaine withdrawal like?

It’s not like a heroin withdrawal, where people get crazy hot sweats etc, but you go through times of anger and dark dark depression. There’s no physical pain, it’s just all mental. Like, being angry all the time. I intensely felt it after rehab, but it still comes back in waves. I still get intense cravings, even now once in a while.

How did you feel before going to rehab?

Terribly sick and tired. I felt like my world was black and cold. Hopeless. Just totally hopeless. But I was so relieved to be going into rehab. On the way there and on my first day I kept thinking ‘I’m so lucky. I have been saved and finally I am getting help. Finally, I am no longer alone’.

What was it like going there?

Rehab was, in many ways, the best time of my life. It was so very safe. The people there were utterly incredible. I had time to grieve and be at peace. I had no phone, no Facebook, nothing to interfere with the process. The therapy was all day every day and it was tough. You had to share absolutely everything, which is utterly terrifying but also the most freeing thing you can do. I missed my family and friends but was overwhelmed by the amount of support I received from the people I’d left in the real world. Rehab was very calm, and I well and truly miss it.

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Meg in rehab

How soon was it until you started to feel better?

About five days into rehab. I had been so numb for so long and one therapy session I broke and wept uncontrollably. I knew I would be okay then. Sometimes you need to break completely before you can start to be fixed.

What have you done since leaving rehab?

I spent 28 days in rehab and then moved to Cardiff into a student house with people that have been so wonderful and understanding. I started my third year studying Drama and Theatre which I love. I started a job. I’ve got a therapist, I go to meditation at the Buddhist centre, I occasionally go to a Cocaine Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings and I often go back to Gladstone’s for a day of therapy.

I’m not “fixed” but life isn’t deeply painful anymore. I know how to cope now. I know how to find slices of joy in life and I am incredibly grateful.

What advice would you give to other people?

If you are worried about someone, talk to them. Ask what you can do, reach out. If you’re worried about yourself ask for help. Find an NA or CA meeting, you will find very welcoming people there and you won’t feel so alone. Go to your GP, talk to FRANK, ask your family and friends. Text someone. Call anyone. There’s no shame in asking for help. None at all.

It’s fucking scary but you are worth it. Everyone is worth it. It will be difficult but waking up knowing you’ve done one more day clean and sober is the greatest feeling in the world.