KOO’S STORY: IT’S WHERE YOUR HEAD IS
I started using heroin at 16. Around 21, I started to think about stopping. I was getting tired of the never ending cycle - thinking about getting on, finding the money, using and then repeating it all. I was over always looking over my shoulder and was worried about the impact on my small child.
My GP referred me to a Drug and Alcohol counsellor at the local hospital. I saw her a few times, but just couldn’t connect. Mostly, she just reeled off facts.
Then my GP suggested the methadone program. Naively, I thought it would be an instant fix, not realising it’s just a tool that can provide space to restructure your life for work and taking part in the community. I didn’t know how to do those things. So I just got depressed because I couldn’t get stoned anymore!
Throughout the next 9 years I jumped on and off methadone, including a live-in program where I lasted a week. I told myself I couldn’t handle the structure and strict rules. The truth is, I still wanted to use.
I kept trying to find easy ways to stop including moving interstate. During this time, my best support was my NSP worker. Always a great listener and never judgmental, he kept me going.
Eventually I got to a point where I realised that if I didn’t accept help soon, I was not going to live much longer. I thought a remote residential rehab in an unknown area, away from familiar places and faces, was my best bet.
Years earlier, I couldn’t have given up my house and couldn’t have handled being away from my daughter. But I had already lost both as my using and lifestyle became chaotic. I was homeless, my daughter was staying with my parents, and I had wasted away to nothing (outside and inside).
There was a lot wrong with the rehab, like being expected to do unpaid work picking fruit. It was exploitative, but I didn’t care. I just did everything asked of me.
After 8 months, I left and spent a few years learning to live without drugs. I had to rebuild my life as a non-drug user. Moving to a new place where I didn’t know anyone was one of the most helpful things I did.
My life slowly stabilised. I repaid debts. My daughter returned to live with me. I got qualifications in Drug and Alcohol, Counselling and Mental Health work. I started work, was able to save money and bought a house.
What I learned from all this is that it isn’t really the type of help we get, but where our heads are at. Sometimes it is simply where we are when we are ready and we make that work for us.
I also think we need all sorts of treatments available. Some things work for some but not others, and things that didn’t work at one point of your life can work at another.
The rehab I went to was recently forced to close due to a lack of funding. This is not helpful, as this type of facility can be very useful. They provide a break from everything we know and some of us need that to change our behaviours, learn new routines and restructure our days.
I believe if people who use drugs really want a change - whether it’s a reduction or abstinence - we will make it. Because the people that society labels “addicts” are the strongest, most determined, resilient and resourceful people around!