Saving My Family: Grace’s Story
When I first started using heroin, my daughter was 6 years old. As any parent who uses knows, the thought of losing their child is a terrible one and the chances of it very real.
The first time that I thought it may be a possibility for me was when I accessed a doctor for my anti-depressants. When the doctor asked me to pull up my sleeve to have my blood pressure taken, he saw my injection marks and immediately launched into a lecture. He told me that my drug use put me at risk of losing my child. He also refused to give me the benzodiazepine prescription that had always come with my antidepressants. To tell the truth, I hadn’t previously connected that the pills I had been on were benzodiazepines. I hadn’t asked for them and didn’t really miss them – heroin was my thing – but I understood that being denied them was all about stigma and discrimination.
Less than a month later, a letter arrived in the mail from the Western Australian Department of Family Services, saying that they were aware I was having parenting issues and wanting to set up a meeting. As my daughter was thriving and at the top of her class, I knew the only issue was my drug use.
My husband and I had been homeless kids together. We were very young when we had our daughter and had no support at all. In fact, my mother would have happily spoken out against us and urged the government to remove our child from us. This, together with my husband’s criminal record and warrants, would have resulted in us losing our beautiful daughter.
We didn't wait around for that to happen. Within a couple of days we had our car packed up and we were ready to leave WA.
The drive over the Nullabor was kinda fun. We were excited at crossing the border like in a movie. We cheered when we drove into SA and our names and the date should still be on the toilet wall at the halfway point LOL!
When we arrived in Sydney it took a while to settle in. Despite my fear of doctors, I decided to try a medicated detox that allowed me to bring my daughter with me.
I was excited, thinking that this would work and I could control my drug use. Unfortunately, when I was asked about what medications I had ever taken, I mentioned the benzodiazepine prescription even thought I had stopped taking any meds when I got back on the gear. The intake worker made a big deal out of it, saying "doctors are getting people addicted". She must have noted it because my so-called "medicated detox" was a 1mg Valium at 8:00 pm. When I was crying - not asking for anything, just in pain, the prescribing doctor told me off and asked me if I'm always like that! I seriously started to wonder how many heroin withdrawals she had overseen.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t last 48 hours. I went back to using straight away of course but was still struggling and wanting a "normal" life.
To this day I am still grateful to a couple that I met on the train coming home from Cabramatta. They talked to me about being on methadone. I remember they talked about being able to get up in the morning and not feeling unwell – even being able to eat some breakfast before getting dosed. To me at that point, it sounded like heaven.
The biggest barrier was that I was really scared to be “on the books” as a drug user. The more treatment I sought, the more my name was associated with drugs, the more I worried about losing my child.
So I got my husband to check out the methadone program first. After about 4 days it was obvious that it was working really well for him. I had been reassured by the way the nurses and doctors had treated us. For the first time in years we were treated like human beings by the medical profession. They also reassured me that being on methadone wouldn't result in my child being stolen from me. I decided that methadone was for me.
It is 18 years later and I'm still on methadone. I feel like it saved my life and my family. My husband and I are still together and stronger than ever. Our daughter is 24 years old and completed her education at university. She has a well-paid job, a stable home and is travelling Europe with her partner. None of this would have been possible if she had been removed from her Mum and Dad’ s custody and love. Methadone certainly played a role in that.
And without methadone I doubt I would be stable enough to be writing this.