Kali is an Aboriginal mum in her early 30s. She has been at WHOS in the women’s program New Beginnings for five months.

UN: So, why rehab?

K: I have struggled with alcohol, speed and ice all my adult life. Ice brought me here. I was totally out of control but the big hit came when I lost my daughter. That was a really big motivator to make some major changes in my life. This is my first crack at “recovery”. I was abstinent while I was pregnant, then I broke up with her father because of domestic violence and I turned to ice. It was really isolating. I just changed all my priorities to using. I was severely depressed when my daughter was removed. Any time I was straight I would just feel devastated by what my life had become and I felt I had to use again.

I was desperate and I wanted to try anything other than my way, because that wasn’t working. Once I was here I didn’t know it was going to work but it has. I am passionate about this place. The staff know what they are doing. I did look at another rehab but this place just felt more welcoming. I want my daughter back so much and next week I go to court for restoration. I can’t express how grateful I am, how relieved I feel. Everything is worth it for that.

UN: What have you found here?

K: It’s changed my life. I have gained so much since I’ve been here. It’s going to be hard to leave. It’s such a loving, caring environment in the women’s community. I have started to find myself, to find my own voice.

You wouldn’t think a group of strangers living together and sharing this level of intimacy would work, but it does. It can be confronting but that’s how I am learning the skills that will keep me abstinent. For example we have these things called “concerns”, when we talk in a group about something that bothering us about some-one else. You learn to frame things along the model of “I feel ... When... Because... I prefer...”. It has been a way for me to learn confidence around telling people what I feel and what I need. Rather than sitting with resentments and feeling misunderstood, I have learnt how to say my piece respectfully and lovingly. For the first time ever I was able to tell my mother that something she said really upset me and she actually apologised. That’s a huge step forward for us.

There are so many aspects that work here for me. I had no routine, so that structure has really helped. And I like that as you go through the program your responsibility increases. I also like the space I found to look after my health. I got tested for hep C and I found that I had had it but cleared it spontaneously. If I had been positive I would have gone on treatment here, because the space is made for that.

I am applying the principles of the place to my life. I feel the potential unlocking in myself. And I am having fun. I had my first real belly laugh here. I mean I laughed til I cried. It hasn’t happened for a very long time.

UN: Do you think having a women’s program and a men’s program works?

K: At first I thought “Oh no, a group of bitchy girls all together!”; I didn’t think I could get along with a group of women. But I have actually found a lot of strength in it. From the beginning you get a personal carer to welcome you and show you the ropes. That meant a lot during the first confusing days. And then I have felt a lot of love from the women here since. I think for me it is easier to stay focused by separating out the women from the men.

UN: There must be conflict sometimes living with any group of people!

K: Yes, but prejudice is really jumped on here. One of the women said something about the sexual preference of one of the staff and I brought it to the group. That sort of thing is not ok, same with racism. You have to speak up because it is about making it a safe environment for everyone.

UN: What about all the different programs rubbing along together - men’s, women’s, people on methadone and so on?

K: I think the choices here are great. This place gives you more than you could imagine. It’s a beautiful place. I have learned that the opposite of “addiction” is connection. I love the respect of the peer groups, being supported by someone with the same goals as me is amazing, no matter what program they are in. We each have our own individual journeys but we are caring for each other as only peers can. I really hope I stay in touch with all these people