Hannah’s Story: Anger’s Not Lady-Like
I’m in rehab. It’s taken me a long time to get here. But I’ve made up my mind: I don’t want to be 50 and stuck in the system.
I never meant my life to go this way. Lately I’ve realised how many mistakes I’ve made. But I can’t dwell on it, just try to change things.
I’m most gutted about losing my kids. They are teenagers now and I’ve missed so much. At least I can honestly tell them that I’ve jumped through hoops trying to get them back.
However, nothing seems good enough for FACS and they keep changing the game on me. Every time I sought treatment for my drug use or mental health issues, it was seen as a mark against me.
It hasn’t helped that I’ve had 22 FACS workers in 10 years, 3 this year alone. But I can be my own worst enemy. Every time they pushed me down, I pushed back in anger.
I’ve been using since I was 15. I did some “juvie”, but my adult jail career started in my late 20s. I was only in for a few months each time, but I realised that if I didn’t pull my head in, my sentences would get longer.
My big problem has always been anger. Mix that with drugs, and I found myself regularly in trouble. I had a childhood of family violence. At 15, I began experiencing violent anger. I was diagnosed as bipolar in my late teens. Whenever something happened that reminded me of what I went through as a kid, I repeated the cycle. I faced domestic violence in my relationships.
My mother used my history of anger against me. FACS gave her custody of my children and any time I confronted her with the way she parented them, she applied for an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO). This meant I was unable to see my kids.
I felt let down by the system. With my boundaries softened by drug use, I’d break the AVO. Then I’d end up in jail — which really brought out my anger.
I felt supported by the women in jail. For the first time, I had real friends. There was a closeness among the women, a genuine compassion. I realised I was not the only one; I had a community. At the end of the day, we were all in the same boat.
I’ve found being a woman who uses drugs a very tricky space. It has been especially difficult to find treatment or support services. I felt the odds were really stacked against me in jail as someone with a drug dependency and mental health issues. I couldn’t find the help I needed in jail — one didn’t even have a drug and alcohol worker — so I would get stressed out. The stress would build until it boiled over when I got out.
I would start celebrating as soon as I got out, to relieve the stress. It always ended in trouble. It was a vicious cycle.
I always got out to homelessness, to nothing. Without support or follow up, it was hard. I felt angry at the world so I would do the same old shit. Going back to jail was always my back up plan. I loved the routine. Jail was much less stressful than being outside and the girls inside kept me strong. The more institutionalised I got, the harder it was to break the cycle.
Learning to deal with my anger has been challenging. Anger is seen as more of a men’s issue. As a woman it feels like you are not supposed to feel angry at all. It’s not feminine. The men get help to change our behaviour. We are told we need psychiatric help and medication.
Eventually I did an anger management course. I got a lot of insight and, combined with some trial and error, I’ve finally learned my warning signs. It’s hard to think before you act, but I tell my old self “don’t act on impulse”. It helps to list the good things in my life.
The last time I got out I ended up at Lou’s Place, a service for homeless women. From there I found a good lawyer, who told me about the Women’s Justice Network (WJN). I wanted to tell my story because if even one woman gets to hear about the WJN and connects with those amazing women, I will have achieved something.
WPN provide mentors, women who have been in jail, who help you do things differently, get the right treatment and keep you going when you have the inevitable setback.
I want to tell women reading this: don’t be afraid to ask for help to change what you know need changing. It’s not always easy, but reaching out can save your life.
I still carry a lot of anger and hurt, but I’m hopeful that if I can stay out of jail, my kids and I will be a strong family unit one day. I am working towards it.
Women’s Justice Network can be reached on (02) 8011 0699. User’s News congratulates WJN founder, Kat Armstrong, on her recent acceptance by the NSW Supreme Court to practice law. An amazing woman with lived experience of drug use and jail who has devoted many years to supporting her peers, she shows what’s possible when we look after each other and aim to be our best.
Lou’s Place is a safe place for women in the Kings Cross area. It’s a daytime refuge, drop in weekdays to 182 Victoria Street, Potts Point for practical help like meals, showers and laundry as well as advocacy and referrals. Phone (02) 9358 4553.