Danielle is in her early 30s. She has been at WHOS for 70 days in New Beginnings, the women’s program with a goal of total abstinence.

UN: So, why rehab?

D: I came here because it was time, because I was broken. After 14 years of using I had pushed everyone that cared about me to the brink. My parents, who love me very much, had nothing left to give me. I had lost a career in the financial market and the things I earned from that. I was not only using heroin and other drugs, I was drinking a lot. I overdosed several times. I had done lots of short detoxes, thinking they would change things for me overnight, but of course they didn’t. I did some out-patient programs but they always became about me getting away with using. I never realised I was just cheating myself.

At first I came here for my family. The deal I cut was that I would stay 3 weeks and then on Xmas eve they would pick me up and take me home. I’ve been here 10 weeks now.

UN: What happened to make the change?

D: Rehab is nothing like I expected. I thought it would be strait jackets and padded walls but there are beautiful gardens here. I thought it would be judgement but it’s a very loving environment. I thought I knew everything. Turns out I knew fuck all.

I have a love / hate relationship with WHOs. It’s changing my life day by day, but it’s hard. 

UN: What sort of things are changing?

D: So much about me has changed since I have been here. My self-loathing is lessening. My will to go and use is lessening. My triggers are fading. I’m realising what my triggers are, and there are so many. A song. A memory. A dream. Even getting a blood test can do it because I am waiting for the feeling of drugs in my system and when it doesn’t come I feel angry and restless.

My mindset is really changing. I see the talk in my head now, I know that feelings are just feelings, and they will pass, I don’t have to act on them.

I’m learning a lot about my drug use. Since I’ve been here, I’ve come to learn some concepts that are really helpful to me in not using. We go to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings to build support for when we leave. At first I was like “why are we listening to all these sob stories?” but I have learned to listen, not to be judgmental, to respect other people’s stories and needs. I’ve learned about being part of a community.

UN: Tell me about being in a community.

D: This place is run on a peer model. It’s a Therapeutic Community. That means peer support is all important. The staff are here to keep things even, to oversee things, but we sort the groups and support each other to cope with not using, to stay here and learn.

I couldn’t have made it without the women here.

When I got here, I was made feel so welcome. Everyone new is assigned a support person DANIELLE 45 who is a senior in the program. They look after you, show you around, and make you feel accepted and wanted. I’m at the stage where I am giving back to the WHOs community; I’m a senior in the house now. That means I get to peer people to appointments - taking them to the doctor, the optometrist - that sort of thing. It means a lot to me to be able to do that.

UN: I’m sure it’s not sweetness and light all the time. What happens if people aren’t getting on?

D: There are processes to follow - “awarenesses” and conflict resolution - that actually work. With an awareness, you can raise in a group something that you are finding difficult about someone else. Anything from not wiping the bench down when they make a coffee to disrespecting someone. The conflict resolution process is where two people who aren’t getting on together talk it out with 2 senior members of the house present. It does work.

One thing is, they don’t take any shit here. Any violence and you’re out. It’s not OK to be violent here.

UN: Do you think a women-only program works?

D: I do. I have a history of meeting boyfriends in detox. For me it’s less distracting to just have women. Also it’s very loving, a lot of hugging. At first I found it awkward, but I know these people really want to help me. I’m really grateful for it.