I don’t think I was born into heroin addiction. In fact, I feel like I grew up in a pretty loving family. My mother is awesome, absolutely loving in every respect.
My father, on the other hand, was not exactly the best role model a kid could have, although he was always kind and supportive to the best of his ability. I called him by his first name, Tony. He asked me to do this when I was a small child, which was a bit strange.
By the age of about 14, I started smoking pot. By 16, I’d used most other substances, but it wasn’t until then that I smoked heroin for the first time. I remember being scared at the time and thinking it was a really bad idea. That was the beginning of the end.
I was addicted within a week. I rarely ever missed another day of heroin for the next 17 years, besides when I was in custody and just unable to get my fix. When I discovered the friend that I smoked heroin with had started shooting up, I remember all of sudden going from someone who was never going to use a needle in my life to “I can’t believe you used a needle without me”.
Shooting up was the best feeling I’d ever had in my life before and I can still remember it today.
Chasing a feeling
Some people say that they always felt like addicts, they always had the obsession and compulsion with things. I don’t exactly relate to that. For me, I just loved the feeling of that first hit. I chased that feeling for the next 17 years. I did a lot of crime in the community and between the ages of 18 and 28, I spent over six years in prison.
By 21, I realised that I was going in and out of prison and that I would hang out for heroin every time. I decided to get on methadone because I could see a lot of prison in my future. After a while, being on methadone stopped me using heroin, it just didn’t work anymore, so I started using methamphetamines to get a buzz. I stayed on methadone for the next 13 years.
I suffered many overdoses during my time in addiction. I’ve had broken, black-and-blue ribs as a result of people doing CPR on me. I’ve even had to resuscitate other people myself. There’s a lot of death in the world of recovery and addiction. It’s a war zone.
I have been involved in quite a few horrific near-death experiences myself, due to the need for getting and using drugs. One of those included a motorcycle accident that left me with head and brain injuries, a fractured femur and in a coma for a few days.
I have taken a fall out of the third-story window of a drug rehabilitation centre and even escaped from prison back in 2001 – an event that attracted the marine unit, water police, PolAir and a big ground chase, too. I managed to get away but was arrested on the other side of the country in Perth with my pregnant girlfriend.
In 2009, I spent three months in Glebe House, a halfway house in New South Wales. While there, I had a moment when I wanted to throw it all away and just get stoned. It was too hard, but for the first time in my life, I made a decision to get on the bus and go back to rehab instead of going to Kings Cross.
It was a very significant point in my life, a real turning point. After that day, things changed for the better and I have never really come close to using drugs again.
The obsession and compulsion to use drugs had been lifted, but not because of some miracle. It was because, for the first time in my life, I decided that I had to do things differently. This was the point in my life that I decided that I am going to throw myself into the middle of recovery and do every single thing that was suggested. This was the moment I began taking responsibility for my actions and worked my hardest to change my life.
The early days of recovery were hard. I had anxiety and hated the uncomfortable feeling of sitting with myself. What got me through that was joining a 12-step fellowship, connecting with my sponsor and others daily, writing on the 12 steps, doing gratitude lists and praying.
I found myself being of service to others, reaching out and offering my help to those who needed it and practised on a daily basis to be kind and brave.
The job that saved me
Three years later, I landed the job of a lifetime. I started working at Glebe House. After obtaining a qualification in Community Services, I was incredibly blessed to be given the opportunity to begin part-time work at the service that saved my life.
In no time, I’d landed a full-time job and today, I am still loving that job more than ever.
After five years being clean, I sat in the office behind my desk. I reminisced about how I was sitting on the opposite side of this exact table, as a client, five years earlier. I felt a mix of emotions – emotions that I had tried to mask for years with many different substances, vices and behaviours.
During this reflection, it struck me that I don’t have anything to connect with what I was like back then when I entered treatment. I thought to myself, ‘What was I thinking? How was I feeling? Who was I?’
I felt a sense of sadness and grief as I wished I had done something to track, document and reflect on my progress. So recently, I’ve started a service called Encapsulator, which gives people in early recovery an opportunity to capture who they are, through a digital time capsule, so they can look back in years to come and see their growth.
It’s a tool to capture their hopes, dreams and future aspirations in a secure video recording to be delivered at a predetermined date in the future. The ability to express yourself without fear of judgement in a confidential space is so valuable.
I wish I’d had something like this when I was recovering. It would have been incredible to see myself transform from a lost and broken individual, to the happy, healthy, grateful man and father I am today.
I wake up every day and am so thankful. They now call me the gratitude maker. I am truly blessed.
If you’d like confidential advice and support to get help for yourself or someone else, contact:
New Zealand: Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800787 797, or text 868. Youth Alcohol & Drug Helpline provides support for young people on 0800 787 984, or text 8681.
Australia: National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline 1800 250 015. For families or friends impacted by someone’s drug use, contact Family Drug Support 24/7 Support Line on 1300 368 186. For young people impacted by druge issues, contact Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.