To hell and back: Nathaniel’s story

By Nathaniel Smith,
updated on Mar 7, 2023

To hell and back: Nathaniel’s story

Drug addiction dragged Nathaniel into a world of pain and humiliation. He had sought peace and happiness in heroin – but finally found it through self-belief, rehab, and yoga

I was 18 when I finally agreed to treatment for my drug addiction. I was homeless, haggard, angry, and ashamed when I walked through the doors of the rehab facility.

Born in 1998 to young parents struggling to make ends meet, my mother was in college while raising my older brother and me, and my father worked wherever and whenever he could.

Our family never had much money, I was bullied, caring for a mother who had a severe mental illness, a father who worked unmanageable hours, and a brother who was often absent.

I remember the first time I considered suicide, not as a result of actually wanting to die, simply because I didn’t want to live.

I got high for the first time when I was 12. My mother, who struggled with severe depression, delusions, and suicidal tendencies, had become steadily worse. My brother was deep in his own world of self-destruction, and I was in the grip of my blooming depression.


Nathaniel and his girlfriend

I’d been searching for a way to change my reality for as long as I can remember, and eventually asked my brother about weed. We had a long conversation about how drugs make you feel, and it was the first time I remember having a meaningful conversation with him.

My brother quietly guided me to the backyard, and we smoked.

I didn’t feel high right away, but the second I sat down on my bed, I was blasted with a kind of euphoria I’d never felt before. I was finally happy.

I spent the next few years smoking weed, drinking, trying different assortments of pills and powders, experimenting with anything that would hurl me into an altered state of reality. After a while, I realised I hadn’t yet found the peace that I’d gained from that first smoke. It was then that I started looking for heroin.

I hadn’t realised my ability to abstain from becoming physically addicted to one particular drug was nothing more than a result of my fascination with every drug. I had no extraordinary willpower, nor was I some superhuman who could dabble occasionally.

I was a full-blown drug addict at 15, but too wrapped up in my ego-driven conquest to realise it. A few drugging buddies invited me over to try heroin, and I didn’t skip a beat.

I remember not even enjoying it. I got sick, but I thought I had to get high on something, so I kept doing it.

Within weeks, I had to have it. I began stealing, lying, hurting, and threatening people, getting others hooked to support my own habit.


I thought I was unique, and that I could ride out the hell of heroin withdrawal at any time and get back on my feet. What I failed to realise was that I was never on my feet to begin with. I was 16.

Over the next few years, I’d go through detox more times than I could count. I’d stay clean for short periods, relapse, get deeper than ever before, detox, and repeat the cycle.

I was 18 when I got to treatment, broken and battered. I stayed for 21 days, leaving against the advice of every professional, still on suboxone – a drug intended to wean people off heroin.

I relapsed shortly after, and overdosed after a few months. I realised my circumstances would never change if my behaviour didn’t. I applied myself, for the first time in my life, to something positive. I walked back into Narcotics Anonymous and worked to the best of my ability.

Today, I have a job in the recovery community, helping addicts find help. I am able to help my family, and support my mother through her illness. I treat my girlfriend with respect and gratitude, and I’ve learned to become a responsible, and compassionate person through practising the 12 steps and adhering to a spiritual discipline called Kriya Yoga.

Today, life is more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. I am grateful for every ounce of pain, every crash, every disappointment, because it all laid the groundwork for me to build the person I am today.

Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred) UKRCP, Reg Ind counsellor, says:

Triggered by a damaging and difficult home life, Nathaniel slipped into a life of addiction, using drugs to control his emotions. Ultimately he uses heroin, believing he is in control, until, like all addicts, he finds it impossible to stop. To break the destructive cycle, addicts need to be motivated to change, and it’s only when he realises this and asks for help that things do change. Nathaniel’s story shows how it’s possible to break from behaviour patterns, reclaim control, and eventually build a better life.

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