Growing up, I was a very unhappy kid. I had anxiety and depression and didn’t fit in. I got picked on and was an outcast.
I started messing around with marijuana and alcohol and by the time I got to year 7 was introduced to speed and pills. I fit in with the outcasts who were a bit older than me. But they were a rough crowd.
My drug habit got out of hand really quickly because it gave me relief from my mental health issues. Before, I was always on the edge, anxious, catastrophising of what bad things would happen next. But when I did drugs, it was like a weight off my shoulders. I had found something that worked, even if it was for a very short period, so I ran with that.
But my use snowballed, and it impacted my mental health even more.
Things weren’t going very well at home, and at 15 I was out on the street.
I went to rehab really young, about 16.
I was seeing a doctor for my mental health issues, and he was going to send me to youth rehab, but there were no beds available, so I went to an adult facility. But that was not a very good experience - it wasn’t a very nice place, and it wasn’t set up for youth.
I went there three times in the first year and didn’t really get the help I needed. I was left to my own devices - no one told me when groups were on, when meals were on. I was just floating around and I didn’t know what I was doing.
After the third time they refused to take me back because I wasn’t doing the program. But I was just a kid and no one showed me how.
Living on the streets was tough, especially during winter.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world. And that’s not because they are bad people, they are trying to survive as well. And I’ve done stuff that I’m not proud of because I was trying to survive out there.
If you mix with other people who are also living on the street, they can be really unwell and leave you with a lot of paranoia and trust issues.
I went through a lot of rooming houses. Sometimes those places were worse than being on the street.
It’s really lonely. There was a lot of shame. Just sitting down in front of a supermarket and people would put food in front of you, you just feel horrible. And having nowhere to go, or no one to speak to, is a horrible place to be.
I suffered with addiction for 20 years.
The first 14 years of my addiction, I was functional. I was a functioning addict. It wasn’t good. I wasn’t performing at my peak. But I was achieving things.
In the last 6 years of my drug use, I really took to IV use. I was hanging around with people who were dealing drugs, people associated with gangs. I got wrapped-up in this full on, intense, scene.
Things escalated and I had 17 heroin overdoses. I ended up in ICUs, in comas on life support. People that I was using with would have to do CPR on me. I didn’t want to acknowledge the effect it was having on the people around me.
I ended up in a psych ward. I was a mess. I had no one.
Or so I thought.
I had met Michelle (Goldberg, First Step Legal Principal Lawyer and Co-Practice Manager) at Windana, and she tracked me down. I needed legal help and she said she wanted to represent me. She seemed like a really nice person and was willing to go out of her way to help me.
I came to First Step and it was a bit of a trap!
First, Michelle dealt with my legal issues and then said, ‘right, I want you to meet the mental health team. I want you to meet the ResetLife team.’ And she linked me into everything at First Step.
I knew I needed help, but I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. I didn’t think I could do it. I just thought, ‘why not rock up to these appointments? Its going to be better than being in the rooming house.’ Rocking up sucked, but I just rocked up. I turned up to every appointment. I just kept turning up.
I’ve been through ResetLife twice.
I was doing really well the first time. I was loving it, I was getting out, focusing on recovering, then the first COVID lockdown hit and we had to jump on Zoom and I was stuck in my parents’ house during lockdown. I lost all the structure in my life. I had a relapse.
Everything came up for me in this period. I totally flipped out and ended up at Ravenhall (prison).
I was in there for a month. The day I got out, I called Benn (ResetLife Program Manager) and said, ‘I need this program’, and the next day I started again.
I put in as much as I could, and I got so much out of it. Going through the various stages of recovery is not easy, but I just turned my life around.
In my recovery, I do meditation groups, visit a Buddhist centre and go to meditation retreats. I find it really helps me with my emotional regulation – to step back and observe my thoughts, the guide my thoughts, so they don’t control me.
I go to the gym. It destresses me and makes me a lot calmer. The gym trains my body like meditation trains my mind.
Then I train my mind and body with cold water immersion – ice baths. This helps me think clearer. And I do a lot of breath work.
These are my fundamentals: meditation, breath work, cold water exposure and exercise.
I have a saying: ‘you win the morning, you win the day’, so my morning routine includes meditation, going to the gym, drink 1L salt water and a cold water immersion. I think if I set up a whole heap of achievements to overcome in the morning, anything else that comes in the day is relatively easy.
Today I work as a Peer Support Worker at Turning Point and volunteer my time at ResetLife.
Peer support work gives me purpose and makes me feel that everything I have been through was not for nothing. It’s nice to be able to relate to people. It’s hard to see them going through tough things, but I have this drive and want to be able to get them on the right track, to get recovery, and to get their life back together.
And I’m also learning all the time doing peer work and going to groups. It helps me with my recovery, and I always come away with gold.
I love my clients and I love connecting with people.
I found it really hard to fit in in my younger years and my drug using years, because I didn’t have any trust.
Now I have this community I can trust. People I can trust. I thought there were no good people out there, but since being connected to the recovery community, and meeting people whilst they’re in recovery, I love people now!
Back then, I couldn’t see that life could be this good. I want my clients to experience this, I want to show them that if they just stick with it, it can be this good for them too.
In the future, I want to study to be a therapist, but for now, I have not intention of moving on from peer work.
Recovery is a process. That’s why First Step worked for me. I could turn up to my appointments, they knew that I was using but they planted the seeds. I didn’t feel judged. I didn’t feel shamed. It opened my awareness to what was possible.
It doesn’t matter how much you want recovery, or how hard you hit rock bottom, getting recovery is about giving it enough time, to see how good it can really get.
Thank you to our photographer, Nicholas Walton-Healey.