New Brunswick

'It turns you into an animal': Recovering addict climbs out of crystal-meth misery

Dave Mitchell, 48, is recovering after a lifetime of drug addiction. He worries about the rise in the use of crystal meth in New Brunswick and recalls the euphoric highs that were soon replaced by anger and self-hatred.

Dave Mitchell believes long-term programs that address trauma are the only way to heal addicts like him

Dave Mitchell, 48, is recovering after a lifetime of drug addiction. He said the euphoric high from crystal meth was soon replaced by anger and self-hatred. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

After years of using crystal meth, Dave Mitchell is finally recovering from his addiction and he credits a nine-month, residential program at Harvest House Atlantic with his success.

Mitchell, now 48, started using intravenous drugs at the age of 30. He was introduced to crystal meth when he was 40.

"You get this euphoric feeling that you're on top of the world," he said of the powerful stimulant.

"The best way I can explain it would be … jumping out of an airplane. The rush of that times a hundred."

The high lasts up to six hours and costs up to $10, but Mitchell said the "buzz" keeps you awake for days and the comedown leaves you feeling aggressive and violent.

"You're angry at yourself and that anger turns into self-hatred because you just feel like a loser," he said. "It turns you into an animal basically."

Long-term recovery crucial

A recent survey of 72 intravenous drug users in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton and Miramichi identified the increased use of crystal meth as the biggest change on the streets in the past two years.

Mitchell said IV drugs led him to more than a decade of crime, time in jail and visits to detox that never worked.

"Deep down inside you know that [detox] is not a solution either. Because you're just going to go there for nine days, and then they're going to let you out, back on the street, right back to the same."

For the first time I saw the damage I was doing to people. I just never cared before. I was in so much pain myself that I thought, 'Whatever — now they'll know what it feels like to be in pain.'- Dave Mitchell

Last summer, Mitchell was sentenced to the faith-based recovery program at Harvest House after he got caught breaking into a shed.

He admits he's stolen countless items out of vehicles and garages and never felt guilty, but this time was different.

Mitchell remembers seeing the people he robbed standing in their driveway in their robes talking to police, and feeling "so, so bad."

"For the first time I saw the damage I was doing to people," he said of that moment. "I just never cared before. I was in so much pain myself that I thought, 'Whatever — now they'll know what it feels like to be in pain.'"

Trauma at root of problems

Over the past nine months Mitchell has met with a counsellor regularly, spent hours in group sessions and Bible studies, joined the worship band at Harvest House and started working out at the YMCA.

He also volunteers at Harvest House and tries to be an example for others who are struggling with addiction.

Drug rehab beds are hard to find in New Brunswick. The province offers just 24 beds for long-term rehab. The waiting list is as long as 6 months. But there are faith-based programs offered - including a nine month program at Harvest House Atlantic in Moncton. Dave Mitchell just graduated. He spoke with the CBCs Vanessa Blanch about his life of crime and addiction. 7:19

"You just focus on healing and finding the root of the problems," he said. "It's actually hard."

Mitchell grew up poor with very low self-esteem and suffered physical abuse.

"I failed Grade 4 and I just felt like I didn't have what it takes to succeed. Like I just never felt like I was going to make it."

He dropped out of school at the age of 15 and moved in with a friend whose mother was involved "with bikers."

"We started doing a lot of crime and … went full blown into this life of addiction and crime." 

'I'm actually a happy guy'

Mitchell said he can now see that there is a big difference between being clean and being healed.

"Today I can actually sit here and tell you that I'm not fully, 100 per cent healed but I'm definitely healing. And so I can say with confidence that who you see sitting here today is not fake. I'm actually a happy guy."

He is now an intern at Harvest House and plans to do outreach work this summer in an effort to let other addicts know there is help if they want it.

"I don't have any shortage of people I can help. I say, 'Hey man, if I can do it you can do it.' Once in a blue moon somebody gets it."

Mitchell credits the faith-based rehabilitation program at Harvest House Atlantic and the the community he now belongs to with his recovery from a crystal meth addiction. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Mitchell holds up his last visit to court as proof of how he has changed. He was in the bathroom when he found a wallet with more than $1,000 cash in it.

"It didn't even cross my mind to take the money. None of it. I just took the wallet, I took the ID out to see who it was, I walked in the courtroom, I said, 'Did anybody lose their wallet?'"

The owner came forward, expecting the money to be gone.

Mitchell held up his, "I love Jesus" keychain as he explained to the man that the cash was all there.

"He said, 'Do you want some money?' and I said, 'No, I don't want no money. I shouldn't get rewarded for giving you your stuff back, so have a great day and God bless you.' And that's the way I am today."

Faith-based programs try to fill gaps

Harvest House Atlantic has a 23-bed, long-term recovery program for men and plans to open a 10-bed program for women by the fall.

Executive director Cal Maskery understands that a faith-based program isn't for everyone and believes a diversity of programs is important, so everyone who needs help is able to find treatment that works.

Cal Maskery, executive director of Harvest House Atlantic, said the majority of people he sees at his shelter are 'struggling with some kind of addiction.' (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

The New Brunswick Health Department has 24 spots for people who want a long-term, residential treatment program with 12 beds in Saint John's Ridgewood Addictions Services and 12 at Campbellton Addiction Services.

People can stay for up to three months but the wait time to get in can be as long as six months.

There are other private, faith-based recovery programs offered in New Brunswick, including Village of Hope, in Upper Tracy, and Teen Challenge Atlantic, in Memramcook.

About the Author

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for nearly 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please e-mail: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca