Christchurch counsellor Mark Steven spent over a decade addicted to meth. Now he wants to help others.
For more than a decade, Mark Steven injected methamphetamine into his veins several times a day. His slide into addiction started in the early 1990s when an algal bloom outbreak wiped out a successful oyster exporting business in Kerikeri, Northland. His marriage ended. He turned to alcohol and cannabis. Steven’s dual recovery treatment addresses addiction and mental health problems.
He discovered the therapy while behind bars. Several stints in rehab followed until a drink driving charge threatened to put him in jail. Prison would prove the “turning point”, but it was a long way off yet. During yet another rehab programme, Steven met a woman who later introduced him to hard drugs.
At first it was speed – until methamphetamine, or P, became the drug of choice. Meth gave Steven an intense feeling of euphoria, which would last up to 18 hours before hitting a plateau – and crashing. Psychosis, rage and despair came quickly, driving him to find his next hit. “I had found my chemical god.”
Within a year he had spent all his money. He turned to crime including stealing, burglary and drug dealing. He started using opiates to manage the effects of meth. “I stayed stuck in that horrible world for a long time.” Treatment programmes, including four years on methadone, did not address mental health issues that led him to addiction in the first place, Steven said.
While coming off methadone, Steven quit taking meth and embarked on a professional counselling diploma with the New Zealand Institute of Counselling in Auckland. He moved to Christchurch for a new start and began counselling, but a relapse into alcohol addiction landed him in prison. That was in 2013, when he was caught driving the wrong way along a one-way section of Cambridge Tce with his lights off. “I ended up with my ninth drink driving conviction and in jail – completely embarrassed as an addiction counsellor.” He spent eight months in prison for the offence.
Behind bars, he found a drug recovery model used widely in the US, which recognised people with drug dependency often battled mental health disorders at the same time as addiction. Known as dual diagnosis and treatment, it was a revelation. Steven applied it to his own situation.
Since his release Steven has been sober. He finished with methadone four-and-a-half years ago and has not touched P for seven years. Now 56, he runs a not-for-profit counselling and addiction recovery service for methamphetamine addicts, which he set up in 2014.
The Dual Recovery Network is based at The Loft in Eastgate Mall. But his stable, healthy life has come at great personal cost – and after a drawn out cycle of recovery and relapse. “It’s a miracle to think of where I’ve come from, to get through that, to be where I am now, with the damage I’ve done to my brain. “You can recover, you can do this … we have to manage our illnesses, our mental health, addictions. It’s a dual process.” “We’re not bad people. We do some bad things, but it doesn’t define us.”