Skip navigation

Louise's story

I grew up in a working class family. My older brother was really sick when I was little, so we spent a lot of time in the hospital with him.

As a child, I was very quiet and very shy and would just hide away in my books and paintings. I felt different, that I didn't fit in, that I couldn't click with people.

But I also had a lot of big questions and remember in primary school asking a girl, 'Do you ever wonder why we're here?' She looked at me like I was crazy, and I thought something must be really wrong with me to think like this.

I don't have any doubts about my parents love for me, but it's not something we would say to one another, there wasn't much affection, and their attitude was very much, 'Don't complain and just get on with it'.

And though I did have a few friends to start with, they used to say, 'You're too sensitive, you cry too much', and eventually they didn't want to be my friends.

The truth of the matter is, when I was 10, I had some pretty bad things happen to me.

This trauma continued for 10 years.

The perpetrator started giving me prescription medication when I was 12, so I knew early on that drugs were an escape.

By 14, I was smoking pot and if people around me had other drugs, I was always willing to try. Soon, I was smoking before school, at school, after school.

I finally felt that I found my crowd.

There was a bunch of us that would run around the city like idiots, smoke weed and do acid and anything else we could get our hands on. We thought we were safe. We thought we knew everything. I remember it as being fun, but when I think back, we were so lucky nothing bad happened to us.

I drank alcohol as another way to get altered, but I didn't like the feeling of being drunk. For some reason, I felt I had more control when I was high than when I was drunk.

I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school. For a while, I thought I'd be a rock star and get f*cked up all the time.  I had sung in a few bands, mostly angry girl music because I was pissed off at the world.

I hated myself and had a lot of anger inside. I was still being abused and although I was old enough to do something, I felt that I couldn't.  My best friend knew, but what's another kid going to do to help?

Smoking weed made me feel better. It made me feel like I didn't care about how much I actually cared.

The school knew I was self-harming, so they linked me to a local psychiatrist who diagnosed me with depression and prescribed Benzodiazepine. I took to this like a fish to water. Some days I was asleep on the bus to school - I was smoking pot, still using the prescription medicines and now the benzos.

Then I discovered heroin. I wasn't doing it every day, just the days that were particularly bad.

When I went to TAFE to study Visual Arts, I stopped using heroin and only used weed occasionally.

Things were on the up.

I transferred to University to do Fine Arts and just loved it. I had finally had enough of the abuse, so broke away from him. I got my first full time job. And I moved into my grandmother's place when she went into a nursing home, so I was living independently.

I felt like I was getting somewhere.

After a while, I got promoted, but it was a horrible role, and I was so unhappy. And then I ended up in hospital with an ovarian cyst. They gave me Endone and OxyContin and I suddenly remembered that feeling.

I would go from doctor to doctor and complain about the pain. Eventually, I couldn't find anyone to prescribe to me.  I was down to my last tablet and panic set in. In that moment, I knew I was addicted.

I called my doctor and told her that I had become addicted to OxyContin. She referred me to an addiction clinic, and they put me on Suboxone, but I had a reaction to it. So, they changed it to Methadone, and I had a reaction to that too. Eventually, they decided to leave me on OxyContin, but I would have to attend daily to collect it.

My work started to suffer, so I thought I would do the right thing and tell my managers. Their response was punitive and shortly after I was fired.  I was devastated. It was my first real job, and I just fell into a hole.

And then I met a guy who introduced me to ice, and that started the ball rolling again.

I couldn't get to my new job on time, I was paranoid, I wouldn't sleep for weeks. He became more abusive, and I sought comfort in more drugs.

Eventually I lost that job too.  I had nowhere to live and no income, so I moved home. That was probably for the best as he had become totally unhinged and I was safer at mum's.

Years went by, almost a decade, and I continued to use heroin along with my daily dose of OxyContin. I thought I was managing ok.

I met a new guy and on the third date I told him I was using heroin and he said he knew by the marks on my arms.

When we went into lockdown, I had to stop using because I couldn't go anywhere to get it. I was beside myself and remember telling my doctor that I wasn't ready, but I really didn't have a choice.

My partner said it was the best 7 months, but as soon as lockdown lifted, I just went back.

I always thought that if somebody loved me that it would fix me, but it didn't. And when I realised it didn't, I ran further into the heroin. I kept doing more and more because I didn't know what was wrong with me. I didn't know why I couldn't accept that this person loved me so much. It was easier to run away from it, so that's what I did.

I was getting closer and closer to overdosing. Every time I woke up, I would think, 'Why am I still here?' The only way I could see out of my situation, was if I died. I made peace with that fact, which was sad, because I finally had this person who loved me and wanted to start a family with me.

Then one day, it was an ordinary day, I did what I've always done - I went in and saw my dealer and then stopped to get a coffee. I was sitting in the car and thought, 'I just can't do this anymore.'

I'd had enough. I was getting so close to dying, but I wasn't. But I couldn't stop either. I needed more help, and I knew I couldn't do it on my own.

I called my doctor, and they arranged for me to enter detox the following week.

Detox was 12 days. I needed to get off the OxyContin and the heroin and transition to a long-acting injectable buprenorphine. The first few days were not fun.

I just didn't know how to live in any other way. I had been doing this for so long, it was my entire life, and I didn't know what I was supposed to do every day.

I asked the Peer Worker what helped her stop, and she told me about the ResetLife Program at First Step and said to call them as soon as I was out.

But once I left detox, and even though I was on the long-acting injectable, I just went back to using. That's all I knew what to do.

I called ResetLife and they told me I had to be at least 7 days abstinent to start the program, but I just had so much trouble getting to 7 days.

Then one Friday I got a call from Andrew at ResetLife. I told him I was three days clean, and he said, 'Don't use over the weekend, you're starting on Monday!' Because I had a start date, I thought, I can do this.

I went in on the Monday, terrified and very fragile. Broken in fact. I was on way too much opiate replacement therapy, and it was causing the muscles in my legs to cease. I met with the First Step nurse, and we reviewed my medication and talked through the options.

I’d had a few false starts before. I would get to 50 days and be triggered and use again; or self-sabotage because I didn’t feel I deserved it.

The first few months of ResetLife were particularly hard, but by halfway through the program I really found my stride.  I even became the meeting pick-up and drop-off person for others in the program.

What was different when I finished ResetLife was that I had hope, and I’d never had that before. I no longer lie and hide things from my family and loved ones.  And I've made new, sober friendships that are full of fun and authenticity.

And although my relationship with my partner ended, I haven’t used. It was really tough, but the alternative would only end one way for me. I have wasted too much of my life trying to escape myself.

Lisa, from First Step, invited me to join the Lived and Living Experience Working Group and I began to feel that I had purpose and value. At the first event the Group held, I got the chance to tell my story. I had never thought about everything that had happened to me, I had never looked back at it all, but I thought, ‘If I can get through all those terrible things, I can get through anything’.

After the event, a participant that had just started ResetLife came up to me in tears and said, 'You've given me hope.'

If I can tell my story and give somebody hope that their life will get better, that's what really matters.

This has been a long time coming, so if I can get something good out of this, and it helps somebody else, then it's worthwhile that it all happened the way it did.

It has now been 9 months and 20 days and I am no longer existing, but rather, living.


Thank you to our photographer, Nicholas Walton-Healey