My story begins like a fairytale: I had a very nice childhood. I grew up in Westervoort, a small village next to the city of Arnhem (The Netherlands). My father’s income sufficiently provided for our family. My mother took care of me and my younger brother. Life was good, other than the fact that I always felt different to other children.
The Beginning of the End
All my friends were playing outside, the weather was beautiful - twenty five degrees and balmy, yet I was sitting alone in front of the TV. I had an unhealthy fascination for money and crime. Watching tv was a compulsive behaviour, I now know, due to the fact I had to see everything that was on - I couldn’t miss a show. When I turned twelve I started to go out more. My father was a big fan of the football club Vitesse and had season tickets. One Sunday afternoon I was allowed to go to the harde kern (Hooligan’s-core) with my dad for the first time. They fought, drank a lot of alcohol and fired off a lot of fireworks. I admired them and said to my father, “I want to be part of this.” At sixteen years old I succeeded in that wish. This wasn’t without its challenges, because I’m only a little man. But even then I was already practical and found large friends to protect me. Together with them I stole bikes and mopeds. Just for the rush, then I drank a lot of alcohol.
My parents were fantastic. But there was one thing they could not do: communicate. At our home there was no talk about feelings or emotions. As a teenager growing up I never learned how to do this. As soon as my dad came home from the market, we had no good conversations. He drank a beer and by the time dinner was served, that beer had turned into a lot more beers. But he did not become annoying nor did he upset anyone, “so what did it matter?” Only now do I see that he was a heavy drinker.
The First Pill
My drinking was still within the limits, I thought. Though there was a significant difference with my peers of the same age. After going out they went home at around two o’clock. I didn’t. I always went to buy more beer from the “nightcafeteria”. The more, the better, was my motto at the time. When I was eighteen I came in contact with ecstasy for the first time. It was at a party, “Rave the City on the Beach”, I took half of an ecstasy pill. I initially did not notice any effects, so I took another half. I ended up bouncing around on the stuff for two whole days. And I was sold. I fell in love with the energy that that little pill gives you. The first time is so special. Throughout my life I have been looking for that feeling, the happiness of a very first high. However, eventually that blissful feeling disappears like snow in front of the sun when you look at the consequences… After that first evening I used ecstasy more often when going out. Soon I switched to coke, because then I could drink more alcohol and it gave me some rest. My criminal profile, despite my height, grew bigger. I sold illegal fireworks, sold fake clothes and illegal CDs and broke into companies. Money flew out of my pockets, all towards expensive clothes, thick gold chains, a beautiful car and my friends – all this just to be liked.
Being Mr Average on Drugs
At this point, I still had everything more or less under control. I graduated from secondary education at the “retailschool" and subsequently worked for my father. Together we stood on the market Monday till Friday. The rest of my income came from my criminal activities, which meant I could live comfortably. When I was twenty-two I met my (now ex-) wife. Two years later we bought a house and got married. I started drinking more and using more coke, which enabled me to drink then even more. At this point I used drugs every day. My parents discovered this aspect of my life and asked me to seek help at a regular institution in Arnhem. Once a week I had to head over for a meeting and make a list of what I used and how much. It did not help at all. That is when I discovered that addiction care had to be approached differently.
The Birth of My Sons and My Other Personalities
My first son entered this world when I was twenty-five. It is fairly usual that most people stop using drugs at this point in their life. I on the other hand started using more and developed five personalities for myself: father, businessman, criminal, husband and addict. This put me under so much pressure that I started using more and more drugs to cope with the masks. My dealer was my best friend and vice versa. He realised that I tried to hide my drug usage from my wife and put the deliveries of drugs in the mailbox or under the door mat. As soon as I heard the mailbox clap, my heart jumped. Of course my wife realised I used drugs. A lot of drugs. To keep her happy I spent money on her. This way she could fill the void with shopping. Meanwhile, the mailbox stock was no longer sufficient. I used drugs throughout the day and had my dealer deliver the drugs to me whilst I was working on the market. Even when I became the father to my second son eighteen months later, I continued to use drugs.
The Loss of My Father and Myself
When I was twenty-eight, doctors told us that my father had lung cancer and that it would not get any better. My solution? Use more drugs. My wife and I employed an au pair for the children so that we could take over my father’s business. A few months later, he died. My mother and wife were with him. I wasn’t. I was driven to the hospital heavily under the influence of coke. I was the first to walk into his room full of bravado, but as soon as I saw him, I ran out crying. I could not handle it. After his death, everything spiralled even further downwards. I would stay up entire nights. If I had to go to the dealer, I would put my two children in the back of the car and jump behind the wheel with beer. My sons found all the cut straws in the house and left lines on the counter. I didn’t let anybody or anything stop me. I stole from everyone. Even the boys’ piggy banks were not safe. My wife was tired of seeing me slip further and further away and wanted a divorce. In order to rescue my marriage, I went to a 12-step clinic in Amsterdam and then for three weeks to a London clinic. It did not help. I thought, if I do this right now, I’ll have my marriage back. Wrong. After finishing the clinic I went home and broke contact with my dealer. I spent a lot of time with the kids, looked well, and my wife started trusting me again. After half a year I wandered back down the dark path.
Back to Square One
My wife and I went to a party. She wanted to go home early and trusted me enough to let me stay. Right when you think you’ll never use again you slip and fall back down. One beer could not hurt right? Five minutes and two beers later, I had called the dealer. From that moment on I was using every day once again. The divorce was soon finalised and I went to live with my mother. I spent all my money on alcohol and drugs and I had to sell my house. I also used GHB, which caused wild sexual expulsions. I went to places you should never go. Due to a lack of money, I also used cheaper drugs like speed, weed and ecstasy.
Crack would mean the end. I’d always known that. But I no longer had anything more to lose. I went to the pipe. I had no contact with my children, I had no normal friends anymore and work was also long gone. I could only think of scoring drugs. A former neighbour brought me to a local healthcare institution, where they wanted to teach me to use drugs in a controlled matter. This had no effect. My life was a sad affair: I did not sleep, sat in a dirty crack house and was unable to gather five euros together with three other grown men for a gram of speed. By this time it was Christmas 2008. The plan was to eat at my moms’ and see my children again. I never showed up. I didn’t sleep until January 2nd. When I woke up after the binge I was found unconscious in the corridor of a crack house. This didn’t stop me, as soon as I was awake, I started using again right away. I even used in front of my mother. I had already sold her laptop and TomTom, she was so tired of my behaviour that she threw me out the house, onto the street. She did not want to see me anymore. My old company car became my new home.
I was a mess, spiritually, physically and financially. All I wanted to do was jump in front of a train. Thankfully, that suicidal night my mother had let me stay in her house, just in time, I realised that my old phone was in the closet which contained the number of the director of the 12-Step clinic in Amsterdam. In the middle of the night I sent a text: “HELP”. That was my surrender. The manager called me and still knew who I was. On February 2nd I was in his clinic. Until then, I stayed with my mother, where I isolated myself from everything and everyone. When it was finally time to go to the clinic, my sister in law gave me a train ticket to Amsterdam and five euros. I only took a couple of old clothes I still had with me to the clinic. My stay was free of charge because I had nothing left in the world. The director came inside and only asked: ”Are you done?” You bet I was. “Okay, then stick with the winners,” he said. That always stayed with me because it’s so true. I was allowed to stay for three weeks, which I wanted incredibly badly. If they had told me that I could only stay clean by picking up all the cigarettes in the Kalverstraat with my bare hands (and there are quite a few), I would have done it right away. I was there for myself. Only Peter mattered.
Openness, Willingness and Honesty
I took my recovery very seriously. The12-step clinic revolved around openness, willingness and honesty. I learned a lot and after my stay I did not want to return to Arnhem. The director of the clinic offered me a living space for a month. I stuck with my recovery: visited at least two meetings a day, searched for a sponsor, did charity work and moved to a safehouse after that first month. After three months of recovery I could see my children again which I hadn’t been able to do for such a long time. They were then five and seven years old. I had lost everything to drugs. I had debts, I had to rebuild all my relationships and fought harder than ever to regain my life. I got a job in a bicycle shop and all my new friends were in the same boat. In the clinic I volunteered as a peer supporter. That gave me such an incredibly good feeling. At last I could help others. I will always stay a merchant at heart; I can make one euro turn into two euros. But that no longer brings me any joy. I want to continue in addiction care.
Clean and Sober for Over Eight Years, and Now I can Help You.
I have been clean and sober since 02 February 2009. I am a totally different person. In the past my life only consisted of taking, now I can give and receive. I have a nice house in IJsselstein, where I live with my sweet girlfriend. The relationship with my children, mother, family and ex-wife have been restored. Now, through my own lived experience, I know how to deal with addiction, and am more than willing to help everybody who’s influenced by the disease of addiction. I have set up my own company called Peter ter Horst’s Interventions and Sober Coaching and am trying to make a small difference in the world.
A film was created about my journey before recovery and you can watch it below. There are no subtitles but it’s more a film about the emotional distress and feelings that I was going through at the time and words aren’t really necessary.
- Q&A with Paula Shields from Asia’s first gender responsive trauma-informed addiction treatment for women.
iCAAD Online 2020