Clifford would be considered your quintessential young man from Naxxar. He was an educator, studied history at university, contested for the Malta Song for Europe and even was a local council member for his village. Clifford is also an ex-drug addict.
He recounts several factors which contributed to him first taking drugs. Clifford was running for the national elections in 2013 when the pressure started to hit. Keeping up appearances and the need to be ‘fake’ were elements of politics that effected Clifford dramatically. There was also the issue of him being gay. He had never come out officially and that weighed down on him immensely.
During this time Clifford was introduced to some bad company who approached him to take drugs – in particular, crack cocaine. Clifford explained how he was in love with the guy who pushed him to drugs. It was hard to separate this guy’s genuine feelings for him with those of the need of a drug addict he explains. After his first hit, the addict kept on seeking Clifford for money and for drugs. Clifford tells how powerful crack (as it is called) is – after just the first or second time of taking it you are addicted.
Clifford says that before this experience with drugs he had never touched a cigarette, barely drank alcohol, he says he went “from nothing to crack”.
And that is how his downward spiral started. Clifford ran out of money quickly and as a consequence started borrowing money, accumulating a debt of over 360,000 euros. All just for drugs.
Clifford lived this life for two years saying that he saw an “underworld” that he never thought existed in Malta. “It was like a movie” he describes – taking drugs with prostitutes and anyone who came along. He explains that it is irrelevant why you started and who you take drugs with, “you could be taking drugs with a killer and you wouldn’t care”. This life was a far cry from the one he had before.
He clarifies that “there is no first-class addict” when it comes to drugs. Everyone is the same and like every addict, he did everything other addicts did.
Eventually, Clifford hit rock bottom. He could not take it anymore and started to remember the better life he once had. And it was this that pushed him to seek help. He says support from the people around him was also essential in him getting help. Although it was a shock to his parents they always showed him support. Messages from students asking about his situation also triggered a nerve in Clifford, saying “I should be giving an example”, which also helped in his recovery.
Clifford first started going to meetings but kept on relapsing so with the help of a family friend he was introduced to OASI Foundation Gozo.
And that was the start of the long road to rehabilitation. He spent three months as a full-time resident at OASI. There Clifford tells how you learn discipline, how to follow rules, how to respect others and also how to do day-to-day things. Once the program is complete reintegration into ‘normal’ life starts.
He eventually got back to his old lifestyle – got involved in politics and the busy life that comes with it. Clifford says that to remain clean your life has to change, you can no longer frequent certain places, or even watch certain movies because the temptation is just too much.
The stress and the wrong environment made Clifford relapse.
This time he says he fell even harder – more drugs, more debt and more trouble.
Clifford explains that to enter OASI you have to be at least four days clean, something he could not even manage. So a friend took him abroad for a few days to get him away from temptation and as soon as he stepped foot back on the island he went straight back to OASI. He then spent five weeks there and started reintegration once again. This time it worked and Clifford has been clean for nearly two years!
He still goes to counselling at OASI but says he is never safe from relapsing. He says there are bad days when he gets the urge to take. Drugs are powerful because they make you forget all the bad things you did when you took drugs and only remind you of the good things, Clifford points out. That is why he says it is important to take life day by day and to enjoy the moment. Being clean is a lifestyle commitment.
Clifford has also started a group on Facebook called Addiction Malta. He says it is a safe platform for drug addicts and ex-drug addicts to speak out about their experience, problems and anything they might need. There are people in the group who have been clean for years which are an inspiration to others and also those currently still using who may require help. In October Clifford will also be releasing a book about his experience.
Clifford’s final message is that this “can happen to everyone” regardless of the person’s status.