A Conversation with Luke Williams
Law graduate and Walkley Award nominated freelance journalist Luke Williams moved into a meth house to research a book and ended up addicted and spiraling out of control. He did emerge from addiction, and his book The Ice Age resulted.
addict2016: My first question is usually the same: are you currently using and, if not, what were you using when you stopped?
LW: No I’ve gone completely clean, it’s been 20 months since I last used crystallized meth. I know many people in the UK probably don’t understand what that is – so let me quickly explain. Crystallized meth is a far more potent version of ‘speed’ (which is usually powdered methamphetamine). It is the world’s most powerful stimulant – it does similar things to the brain as cocaine but is, far, far, stronger. The crystal meth we use in Australia generally comes from China and Hong Kong, and we have only had it in Australia for about five years – so people are still struggling to come to terms with what the drug really is.
addict2016: Your story is remarkable. Your background is in journalism?
LW: Thank you. Yes, my background was a broadcast journalist, but I left to become a lawyer in 2009. In 2014 I quit law and I moved into a friend’s house who was a drug addict and dealer. I decided that 9 to 5 office life and all the goals that go with it weren’t for me; I wanted to write full-time and live my own way. I think those ideas also meant that I felt like it was okay to experiment with drugs and take them as often as I liked because I was so disappointed with middle-class life.
addict2016: Where did your experiments begin? For me, apart from cannabis, it was psychedelics at the beginning.
LW: For my 17th birthday in 1997 my friend gave me an acid trip. I had lived a very sheltered life until then, I was studying hard because I wanted to be a psychologist and I was also a state-representative athlete which meant I was doing two hours training a day. That all changed after I took the acid trip, and in retrospect I am not sure if it was necessarily for the better, but it did open my mind.
addict2016: You had planned to move back in with your friend to research a book on meth. Can you explain your rationale?
LW: So yes, fast-forward to age 34 and I am embedded with a friend who is dealing crystal meth and marijuana from his house – albeit on a small scale and just enough to support his own habit. I just wanted to write full-time so I thought that by living with him I would find material for a book and I did – just not the material I was expecting because I didn’t realize we were taking crystal meth. I cooked my brain so badly on meth that, after a few months, I genuinely lost track of the fact I was writing a story; I stopped taking notes and became fixated on a series of non-existent events with myself at the centre. I became psychotic very quickly so I had no concept I was addicted. I thought I was developing new ‘powers’ like musical abilities and even telepathy at one stage.
addict2016: How quick was your descent into addiction?
LW: Quite quick because I didn’t realize I had gone psychotic
addict2016: How long did you tell yourself you were functioning? I was deluded in that respect for some time whilst addicted to heroin then more recently alcohol.
LW: Yes I was still functional whilst coming in and out of psychosis. I also became aware that there was a never-never land between psychosis and reality which was both fun and a source of new ideas, so at times I was deliberately pushing myself to the precipice and at other times I had no idea what I was doing. But yes, I was still working at the time, although I did eventually reach a point where I had no money and nowhere to live.
addict2016: I connect with that. I took insane amounts of everything I could get my hands on the late 90s…working in a band, running acid-techno parties and a record label. The more I pushed the more everything flowed but I needed the smack to calm down
LW: Wow, it sounds like a lot of fun, but I am also skeptical now of the idea that we need drugs to come up with ideas or that just because you are still working it means your addiction is fine. Crystal meth did open my mind in some ways, but in a very short period of time I was acting in a childish manner and hurting others around me.
addict2016: The same as every addict, whatever the substance. The fun soon stops.
addict2016: Huxley wrote about the doors of perception. I understand now. No drugs are needed now I’ve opened them
LW: Yes I feel the same way. Whatever drugs brought to my life they already have and I don’t need to keep using them – at all, ever
addict2016: What was the catalyst for your recovery? Was there a defining moment? A low point?
LW: Well I had struggled with drug addiction before – the low point this time was having nowhere to stay, threatening to kill my parents, sleeping outside and then having to live with my uncle with schizophrenia. I was 34, I had a law degree and had been a journalist nominated for several national awards – I realized that it just wasn’t cute anymore and that I was wasting my potential. On the other hand, I had no real desire to live a bland middle-class life and I was worried that I should have spent my life on more creative pursuits instead of climbing the socio-economic ladder. Over time I realized that I could write books for a living and thanks to my life experiences, age 34 was the perfect time to dedicate myself to writing. I also realized I had a lot to work on and it was not the creative side of writing that was the problem – it was logic and attention-to-detail – and I had to be clean to work on these things.
addict2016: I have heard an interview where you talked about nearly killing someone?
LW: Yes I had a lot of ideas about killing people, most of them were said as a joke – I’ve done a lot of theater in my time and so has one of my friends so we would often get on drugs and act these off-the-wall scenes – but the problem was that I started to get very excited about killing people. I also believed people wanted to kill me and this made me want to kill them first.
addict2016: Did you worry about your sanity at this point?
LW: I never really came out being insane – I only had some days where I realized I had lost the plot the day or so before, but it took me a good year of living in the house to even remember some of these ideas, and even now they are still littered with blackouts.
addict2016: The same with my drinking – blackouts. That was what began to really scare me…and that I was about to lose my family.
addict2016: So now you are clean, is your life any calmer?
LW: Yes, my life is fantastic now.
addict2016: What keeps you clean?
LW: My love of writing, Buddhism, I live nomadically, I try to live without delusion, lots of things.
addict2016: Do/did you attend any recovery groups?
LW: No, but I had been into rehab before, so I had all those tools – I just hadn’t quite reached the question of what is the meaning of life without drugs?
addict2016: What is the answer to that question?
LW: Seeing reality on its own terms, free from delusion, and enjoying it and experiencing things outside the self; from there, I think you can work out specifically what you need to do to make meaning in your own life in a particular way.
addict2016: Very true. You are currently in Jakarta, researching your new book. What is it about?
LW: My book is about extreme experiences that westerners have when travel to or live in Asia, including my own, so this week I am staying in a slum for a night and then going and staying in a 5 star hotel to look at extreme inequality in Jakarta – that’s just one chapter, after that I’ll go to India to profile people who travel for spirituality.
addict2016: What would your advice be to another human suffering addiction?
LW: Well, I say that addictions are very hard to escape and come in all forms, but I would ask do you want to stop your addiction? Just gain a bit more control? You have work out a way to tap into your addiction so you gain from it rather suffer from it – because sometimes part of it is channeling obsession into something that brings good things into your life? Addictions are irrational, they usually serve no purpose and feed on themselves, they normally centre around unproductive pleasure – but even people with severe OCD have treatment available to them now, so if you want to stop you can eventually learn how if you reach out to the right places. The question is whether or not you want to. Also, treatment is just treatment for addiction – it’s not going to answer all your big existential questions, but once you get drugs out of your life you will be better placed to resolve them.
addict2016: Thank you Luke it’s been fascinating talking to you.
LW: Thank you.
The Ice Age: a journey into crystal meth addiction by Luke Williams is available to buy online.