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Elizabeth's story

My biological mum left when I was 18 months old. Then I got who I call my 'real mum’ when I was nearly three. She was my first memory, and we were very close.

Unfortunately, she was an alcoholic. She was pretty good during the day, but at night she would drink. She would get up late, so she didn't have to wait too long to drink.

We would go on family holidays, and we'd go to the Pokies. That was a big thing for mum, she liked the Pokies. So, I grew up being babysat by the waitresses while they were playing. Or in the little activity room, playing by myself because there were no other kids around.

I would see my biological mum every now and then - dad would drop me off to spend time with her, and her parents. We would always go and do fun stuff together. But I remember cracking it at my grandparents’ place because I was so confused, and after that they stopped regular visits. I was only 4 years old.

School was hard for me. I was always abit slower. They tested me every year, and every year they found nothing wrong. I just liked to take my time, and that's not what mainstream schooling is about.

I struggled to make friends, so I was isolated a lot. I would say to mum, 'I don't want to go to school', and she'd let me have the day off. Through high school, I was only going about three days a week. I just wanted to stay home with her.

In year 11, I refused to go anymore, and got a job instead.

Eventually, I did go back and try to finish, but didn't pass. Then as a mature age student I finally completed my VCE because by then, I understood that I couldn't get anywhere without it. I even got into Uni and was doing really well, but I think I was scared of succeeding, so I dropped out.

I was a big avoider. I avoided conflict. I avoided everything. I would read a book and hide behind that. I smoked my cigarettes and hide away from the world.

I had started smoking when I was 16, mum introduced that to me. By 18, I turned to gambling. Every cent I had, I spent on gambling and cigarettes. And at 23, I started drinking.

It's at about that time that I got engaged to a man who was obsessive, financially controlling and manipulative. We'd have the weirdest arguments and I never felt safe around him. I just didn't. It would always come down to money - he'd go on and on about money. And of course, I was gambling. In the end, I just left. I took my dog and went back home.

Mum was a nurse, so she talked me into becoming a Nurse’s Assistant, and then I trained to become a Personal Care Attendant. I did study to become a Registered Personal Care Attendant, but I didn't turn up to the last class or hand in the last assignment. That's something that I do. That's me getting scared that I could do it.

I was second in charge in a nursing home hostel, but I wasn't coping. There was too much death and grief and stress. Eventually, I had a breakdown. I couldn't handle it anymore.

I had been dating Matt for some time, and knew he used heroin, but I hadn't had much to do with drugs in my life. But I was at my wits end, and I started to use.

First it was every three days, then I would come down and want it again. And within a month, it became four times a day. This went on for years.

When Matt was sent to prison on drug driving charges, I had to dry up.

Mum took me to the hospital, but they completely mistreated me, and sent me home with some Valium. I was ok during the days, but I didn't like the nights. It was nasty, but I did it naturally at that point.

Once Matt was released, I moved back in with him, and I went back on it. He was very controlling, he hated me gambling and thought my Centrelink money should go to him. He would keep kicking me out, so I kept going home to mums. Until he sucked me back in and it started all over again.

Finally, I went back to my doctor, got on buprenorphine, and became an occasional user. I would use on a Sunday, like a Sunday afternoon treat. This was working well for me, until my mum died. She had a cardiac arrest on a Sunday, and I couldn't forgive myself for not being there with her.

For the first year after her death, I used a lot, but then I thought, 'that's enough, I can't do this anymore.' So I cut all ties with Matt, and never used again. That was 11 years ago.

I moved into my own home, started working and was feeling stable. Until I started hearing voices.

I became paranoid and thought everyone in my unit block was talking about me, that they were trying to poison me. I had an extreme psychotic episode that lasted for days and days, where I tried to take my own life. I have a constant reminder of those days because my little finger will never bend straight again.

My neighbours found me and called the ambulance. I was hospitalised, placed in a medicated coma for four days, and then on suicide watch for a month. They sedated me and put me back on buprenorphine - they didn't believe that I had not been using. Eventually, they discharged me and sent me home.

Once home, I could still hear the voices and now I thought I was being followed. I went to the police, but they couldn't do anything.

So back to hospital I went.

After a month in the psych ward, the Psychiatrist recommended that I stay for a further 6 months because I couldn't be trusted to take my medication. But my dad said no, and explained that I had been taking my buprenorphine for years without missing a day. The tribunal said I deserved a chance and they appointed a case manager and linked me to First Step. I was discharged on Friday and at First Step by Monday.

First Step and the Alfred worked together to get me to where I needed to be. The legal team checked that all the AVOs were sorted. I participated in the Women's Group. I saw the GP for my medication management, to treat the Hep C and the liver cirrhosis. And brokerage funding paid for a laptop and to do peer support training.

And the biggest lifesaver has been the change from buprenorphine to the Long Acting Injectable Buprenorphine. I had to take buprenorphine every day which meant I was up and down at different times of the day, and how well it worked depended on how well it dissolved. It was like having withdrawals every day. And I had to go to the chemist regularly, which meant I couldn't go away for long. It was a nightmare.

With the long acting injectable, I don't ever stress about it, I don't hang out for the medication. I don't think about it.

12 months after I got out of hospital, I wanted to go away on my first holiday, so I started talking to the GP about my gambling. I wanted money to go on a holiday, so I liked this idea of saving money but realised I couldn't gamble AND save money.

So, I told myself I could gamble every 3 months, but I don't take that choice up. The choice is mine now. I own it.

The doctor also helped me with my drinking, and I did hypnotherapy with the First Step Psychotherapist to quit smoking. This is all saving me a lot of money!

Recently, my car broke down, and it was the first time I could afford to pay to have it fixed. I felt amazing!

A little while ago, my self-talk was really negative. I was having weird thought processes and needed a tune up and some time out. So, I went to a residential mental health service for 4 weeks where I met a peer worker.

He was able to help me talk about my stuff, and it wasn't from a clinicians point of view. He was one of us. And he said to me, 'you could do this, you could be a peer’. I mentioned it to my First Step counsellor, we looked up courses and I found SHARC.

I've now finished the peer course and have got a certificate!

The plan is to be a part time peer. I want to start off by volunteering because I want to get my foot in the door. But I eventually want to be paid, to be recognised for what I can bring to a peer role.


Thank you to our photographer, Nicholas Walton-Healey.