There I was looking all fabulous in my tangerine trapeze top and vanilla pants when, suddenly, the roof flew off the top of my head and my brain caught fire.
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Cory Ammon: Starting again from the bottom
Cory Ammon has been clean for one year, one month, three weeks and nine days. But it took him 15 years to break free from his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine. Ammon had to hit rock bottom before realising that his life was being destroyed with every bottle of alcohol and snort of cocaine. “I was really living in denial. Even when it was very obvious to me that my life was quickly deteriorating, I was still in denial,” he told the T&T Guardian.
Ammon’s love for alcohol began at an early age, when he would serve alcohol at family gatherings. “My family always held get-togethers for special occasions and alcohol would always be plenty. My brother and I were the bartenders at these events.” While his parents weren’t heavy drinkers, Ammon’s interpretation of the easy availability of alcohol at the family events was that it was the normal and acceptable thing and also the only true way to be able to enjoy yourself socially. Keeping this in mind, the teenage Ammon drank a lot at parties. “I was also very shy as a teenager and I noticed when I drank, I automatically became this more confident and brave person.”
He and his friends became so popular at various nightclubs that once they arrived, bartenders would lay out their signature drinks without an order. Cory Ammon was living the life, or so he thought. “Looking back now, it is really silly, but at the time it made me feel really special. What I did not realise then was my abuse of alcohol was practically laying the foundation for full-blown addiction,” he said.
As he grew older his alcohol consumption increased heavily, from drinking on weekends to practically every day. And even then, Ammon believed this was normal behaviour. “I just never had enough. I don’t recall ever even getting drunk after consuming a lot of alcohol. Tipsy, but never drunk. Instead I would just feel really full.” He started sticking his finger down his throat to vomit and make room for more drinks.
From spirits to cocaine
The former Fatima man’s desire for alcohol led him down an even darker path. He was introduced to cocaine by a friend who said snorting cocaine before and during drinking would allow Ammon to drink as much as he wanted without feeling full or even experiencing a hangover. Ammon quickly put the advice to use. "I experimented with other drugs before, but I never got addicted to any. I suppose they all never had the kind of effect cocaine had on me. It became the norm for me to snort cocaine the restrooms of nightclubs while I was drinking."
The former merchandising manager was eventually introduced to another grade of cocaine—crack cocaine. Powdered cocaine would just sober him up, but crack gave him what he described as an "out-of-body" experience.
He graduated from smoking crack in the form of a “black cigarette” (a combination of tobacco, marijuana and cocaine all rolled into one joint), to smoking crack via the pipe, something he was warned against by friends. But the warning fell on deaf ears. Ammon wanted to experience higher heights. He began living a double life. By day, he would go to work and at night he would hit the bars, then head home to smoke crack. His family and employer soon found out about his addiction and both urged him to get help. He was eventually sent to counselling by his employer, through the company's employee assistance programme.
But this did not help. In fact, Ammon admitted, if anything, it taught him how to hide his addiction better. With the false belief that he was doing better, things began to look up on his job and he was even promoted. But in the background his addiction only grew stronger. He spent less time at parties and drinking at bars and more time at home, smoking crack. His lifestyle took an emotional toll on his elderly parents and an aunt who lived at home with the family. "They would talk to me, but I never listened. I wondered why were they being bothered by something that I was doing to myself? But in reality when the addict is using a drug, he ultimately becomes the family's drug, because now they are completely occupied with trying to save this person."
Things fall apart
Ammon's growing crack addiction inevitably affecteds his job. Spending late nights smoking crack eventually led to poor punctuality, failure to meet deadlines and generally unsatisfactory job performance. "I knew what was going on and I really tried to stop. I would tell myself I would not smoke it for so many hours tonight, or I would try and stay away for a day, but I was so deep in my addiction, I really could not help myself." After many verbal and written warnings, Ammon lost his job in 2012 and crack became his 24-hour nurse. "The thing about addiction is that the addict always believes they can return to that time when they could have managed the drug but that never happens. We do not realise how far we've gone or how deep we're in."
Recognising his downward spiral, he admitted to his family that he needed help and asked to go to rehab. However, even that he thought he could control. He did not want to go to a rehab centre in T&T and instead asked the family to send him to the Crossroads Rehabilitation Centre in Antigua. They disagreed. Their decision only infuriated Ammon and fuelled his addiction further. He began losing weight and hallucinating and his relationship with family and friends deteriorated. "I was in pure isolation," he said. It was at that point he really hit rock bottom and with nowhere to go, he made up his mind to truly surrender. "I told my family that I will go anywhere and do anything that they wanted if it would make me well again.”
They decided he would attend the New Life Ministries Rehabilitation Centre at Mt St Benedict, St Augustine. In 2013, he checked in, spending the first three months of the two-year programme in-house. There, he learned of the disease of addiction. He learned more about self-esteem, how to communicate better, humility, anger management, triggers that can contribute to relapses and most importantly, to accept responsibility for his own actions. "It was not the easiest being in rehab. I did some things I never had to do for myself, like wash my own clothes by hand, wash many wares…sometimes some huge pots and pans," he jokes. "I constantly had chores and then of course I was dealing with the various personalities of other recovering addicts.
“But all of it helped in creating the new me."
A new life
Today, Ammon is completing a course in Caribbean regional addiction studies with UWI, St Augustine’s Open Campus. He also works as a volunteer twice a week at the centre.
He says now, "Addiction is a disease just like any other disease. Addicts need to take their medication, which comes in the form of meetings. In these meetings we listen to the stories of other addicts, which are constant reminders of where we were and where we ought not to return. "All of the Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) fellowships, follow the 12-step programme, which helps the addict to understand and accept his disease and to also realise through regular fellowship, there is hope."
Recovery is not just about staying clean from drugs, he explained, because once you stop taking drugs there is a void that needs to be filled. Rather it is living life on life's terms without the use of drugs, one day at a time. Finding and connecting with a higher being is also paramount in one's recovery process, he stresses. "I strongly believe part of the reason for me going to rehab was through my family’s prayers to save my life. And I owe my staying clean to my newfound connection with that higher being. “This is really the only way any addict, I think, can truly surrender, by letting go and letting that supreme being take control."
To get help: If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, visit www.aaposigintergrouptrinidad.org or call 679-0066 to find an AA near you. For Narcotics Anonymous, e-mail [email protected] or call 367-1881. For the Substance Abuse and Prevention Centre call 662-2211/14. Service is available 24 hours.