I started using when I was sixteen. Love at first shot.
It was the usual story: I thought I’d found the Holy Grail. I chose to use for a year, then I spent the next twelve years trying to end the affair. I was on about four different methadone programs over the years and found life worse on it. I’d usually sell doses for gear, banging it up to try to feel something, getting so down about the program that I’d jump off high doses cold and then overdo it with benzos I obtained to help detox off the ’done. Then I’d start using again for a few months before getting on another program again.
I couldn’t see how ’done helped you live a “normal life.” I felt a lot more normal when using but the lifestyle wears you out from time to time. You kid yourself that the ’done will give you a bit of respite from all the madness and from the perpetual cycle of obtaining the cash required to support your habit.
I can honestly say that the only regret about my using years was not being able to have my daughter back in my care. At the age of seven she stayed with my parents while I tried to get my shit together. That turned into five years.
I felt that I was a good mother while maintaining a habit and I have had confirmation from straight people who knew me at the time. It was only when I used benzos that things went chaotic.
Thirteen years after I started using, after many attempted detoxes, programs and rehabs, I moved interstate, away from the Sydney heroin scene. Using anywhere else in Australia, after the luxury of the nineties’ open-market scoring in Cabra, seemed pointless. Still on the ’done, I tired of the whole scoring thing and decided to try to rebuild my life.
I did not know how to do this or if it was possible, but I had a glimmer of faith, deep down inside somewhere in what faintly resembled my heart, that maybe I could try.
I had a conviction that I was meant to live after numerous brushes with death (some accidental, some not) had always left me bouncing back against the odds – to my disappointment at the time.
I saw an ad on the TV one day for a place that could help if you were wishing to change something in your life. I was drawn to make that call. I ended up in a rehab in the bush, jumping off 100mg of ’done. I hated it; I didn’t sleep for two weeks. But I thought this might be the cat’s ninth life so I’d better stay. I stayed for eight months.
The first year of being straight the killer was boredom, but very slowly things started coming back in my life that I once had been interested in.
A few years later I started studying Counselling and Drug and Alcohol work, I had another daughter, started doing some voluntary work at an emergency relief centre to get a foot in the door back into employment eventually. I started to address all the old bad debts from the past and slowly got them all paid so I could one day have a credit rating again. That was a bloody good feeling!
Eventually I got into welfare work in a paid capacity and have been employed for four years. I have bought and sold two houses. I’m not big-noting; this is just what happened to me.
I’ve been clean for thirteen years now, the same amount of time I used. There’s a nice symmetry to it. Even after thirteen years I still feel like an alien in a straight society at times. I can’t share the things I’ve done in conversation with others. But I also feel strong and proud. I live with the knowledge that I could probably get through anything life throws at me. I know what I escaped from.
I’ve had to fight so hard to get where I am that I will not let anyone or anything take that away from me and I will never forget to thank God that I was given a second chance at life.
Some people ask me “How do you get off the gear?” But there is no formula. What works for some doesn’t for others. Circumstances, environment and opportunities for all of us are different. I think that if it is your time, you will be able to make it in spite of whatever help is around you. People tried to help me for years but it was no good because it wasn’t the time for me. I just used them up and pushed them away.
I am really grateful for all my experiences, both good and bad, with smack. It taught me a lot and made me dig deep to keep it all going for as long as I did. I would never have known what I was made of unless I had the experiences of getting into and out of smack.
I went back to Sydney recently. I took my daughter for a two-week sightseeing trip. On the last night we had some pasta on Darlinghurst Road, visited the British Lolly shop across the road, enjoyed watching the fountain for a while. I thought “Yeah, I think I’m straight now.”
Illustration by Glenn Smith
User's story: That Niggling Feeling
On a cold winter’s morning, my partner had woken me to go and pick up a few deals left at the house of a friend who was away on holidays. The journey would only take me ten minutes, resulting in a nice shot when completed.
I would usually go without hesitation, but for some reason I whinged and complained about having to go. I even asked my partner to accompany me, as I really didn’t want to go. That should have set off warning bells, as I was never one to refuse an invitation to party. I realise now that my intuition was trying to warn me about something. Eventually I was persuaded to go.
When I arrived at my absent friend’s place, still and dark and cold, I noticed from afar that the screen door was wide open. This sparked a hint of concern, as it was usually shut.
I hadn’t noticed the two guys standing in the doorway until I was basically on top of them. They were smaller than me in height and build, and had that strung-out look about them. One guy had pale unshaven skin, dark beady eyes and shoulder-length greasy hair. He did the talking whilst the other guy stood silently, face-down behind him. To this day, I can picture the speaker’s face but would not recognise his mate; he was like a phantom.
I could sense the desperation in the guy’s voice as he explained that a parcel should have been left for him and his mate. I should have listened to what my heart was trying to tell me, which was to get the hell out of there. But being young and naïve at the time, I took the bait and opened the front door to the apartment, letting the others in behind me. I eagerly accessed the drawer containing the deals and discovered there were only four. I had a problem, as this was the amount I was to pick up. I hesitantly explained the situation and told the two guys they would have to return tomorrow, when my friend would be returning.
One of the guys became argumentative so I decided, out of consideration, to sell one deal to them. Insisting they give me cash for the deal fell on deaf ears.
I was then confronted with aggression and a four-foot chain. One of the two stood by the door, blocking my escape. The other came toward me demanding the remaining deals. There was no way I was giving up my stash, knowing what my partner, waiting back home, would do.
In a panic I reached for the phone. I was instantly rapped across the knuckles, knocking the phone out of my hand. A warm flow of blood followed. Shocked and confused, I was backed onto the bed, where an assault of chain whips started, repeatedly belting down on my thigh.
I had two options: lay there and cop a beating or fight back. I chose the latter. The phone lay next to me on the bed. I grabbed it and brandished it as a weapon, screaming as I pushed violently past the chain-wielder, who shouted at his “watchman” to stop me.
Both assailants failed in their attempt to stop me, due to the adrenalin coursing through my body and my murderous screams of “HELP!”, waking the neighbourhood. They both fled.
I got into my car and sped home, reliving the story to my partner, who at first wouldn’t believe my experience. After showing him my corked thigh, turning grey and yellow, his realisation of my attack started to sink in. For several weeks after this attack I was on the lookout, hoping to recognise my assailants, but to no avail.
My intuition presented itself on that cold winter’s morning, but I ignored it. I was a moth drawn to the flame. It was the last time I was going to be a victim. I had learned a valuable lesson: Listen to your inner voice. Trust that gut instinct.