Wendy, a Hader Clinic Queensland’s residential addiction treatment program support worker has been 25 years in recovery. She shares her story.
Hi, let me start by saying my addiction recovery journey hasn’t been straightforward and I have relapsed on my way. I want you to know that relapse does not mean failure, rather, that it’s just another important step in the journey and that there’s always hope.
I have been working in the field of mental health and addiction for several years and also have ‘lived experience’ with addiction as well.
My story has been one of getting years of “clean time” up and then I’ll relapse. It’s a matter of getting back up and going again. My last relapse occurred after a knee surgery where opioids were prescribed for pain relief… then alcohol became involved… and next minute… relapse.
It’s just that underlying nature of addiction, that tendency I have towards it. Even though opioids were never my primary drug of addiction, taking an addictive drug as a pain killer was never going to work for me, it precipitated me going back into relapse.
I reckon I would have become addicted from the very first tablet I took.
It’s about learning as you go.
I should have disclosed prior to my surgery that I had a history of addiction and that I shouldn’t take opioid medication, however, my sneaky addict brain convinced me, “nah, you’ll be fine, you’ve had an operation”.
I don’t know what I told myself about the alcohol I used with it. That’s how quickly it snowballed.
I was managing four mental health programs at the time, yet addiction still hit me. The trouble was that I was able to maintain a good front professionally, and given my role, I found it very hard to ask for help. I’ve gotten out of control again.
You need to learn your safeguards and how to put them into place, share the warning signs and have a “safety plan’ in place.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate even towards professionals.
I believe there’s a strong genetic component underlying my addictive tendencies.
Once you know this, then learning to manage it, never letting your guard down and being vigilant is the key. You don’t have to relapse on something going wrong, you can also relapse on everything going perfectly right.
I’ve been in and out of recovery for the past 25 years, within the NA fellowship. I did my timeline with my sponsor when I did the Twelve Step program.
I can see where it all started.
I was eleven and I had some friends over. When my parents went out, we all got into the liquor cabinet. We all got intoxicated and very sick. When I came to, I thought, “I have to do that again” whereas all of my friends were completely turned off the idea of drinking as a result.
By 13 or 14 I was smoking weed, sniffing glue, doing anything I could do to ‘just escape’.
I had also been diagnosed with adolescent depression, so using was definitely an escape. However, it really started affecting my mental health. I felt like I could never get on top of it because I kept putting more (drugs) in.
This pattern followed me through high school and my early employment.
At 21, I got work with the airlines and worked with them for nearly fifteen years. I was an international flight attendant so that lifestyle pretty much propped up my addictions.
I identified as a poly-user – I would use anything and everything, just as long as I could feel that high, so I never had any specific drug of choice.
Throughout my addiction, I got repeated arrests for drug possession.
I also got some very heavy charges due to being in psychosis – I even assaulted a police officer.
I was deported from America.
I got married, thinking “that will save me”.
I had a child, thinking, “that will save me”.
I ended up stepping down from the airlines and with too much time on my hands and an unlimited bank account… well, it was a recipe for disaster.
I was fortunate that my ex-husband was clean and sober and could look after our son.
We would do drugs socially on occasion, but I was an everyday user, whether it be alcohol, GHB, cocaine, you name it.
I was incapable of parenting my son.
My ex-husband looked after my son exclusively from the age of two until he was nine, when I got clean for the first time. I can’t really remember anything during this time, birthdays, milestones or special occasions.
My ex-husband and I separated and then when I got my final arrest, and deportation back to Australia, he took full custody of my son.
I had Department of Children’s Services (DOCS) involved.
My son wasn’t allowed to be in my care unless I could produce hair follicles, urine and blood tests proving that I was clean. This went on for about three years.
My son is now 19 and my addiction has impacted him.
He’s been in therapy for a couple of years now. He finds it very hard to attach to people.
That important phase of me nurturing him, I just wasn’t there for it. I’d always push him away because I was high.
We’ve come full circle though, we’ve both been in therapy and he understands that addiction is a disease.
He’s doing well and he encourages me to stay in recovery.
He’s had a few issues with dabbling in marijuana use.
It all came to a head twelve months ago, when he attempted to take his own life.
He’s much better now, however, he has definitely inherited the family tendency towards addiction and depression.
With poly-use I do believe there are underlying genetic factors and your environment pulls the trigger.
As a little boy, my son would come in to check that I was still breathing. There’s been a lot of trauma there, which will take a lot of work to heal.
When I came into recovery two years ago, I had to start educating him because he was a lot older.
We really had to look honestly at the whole situation – how it had affected both of us and what we had to do to work through things.
My last relapse lasted eighteen months.
As I said, I was working in the industry and I held so much shame and remorse around my situation.
Relapse had come through a side door and I didn’t know how to ask for help.
It finally came to a head, with one of my best friends (who is a detox nurse at another rehab) recognising that something was amiss.
She came to me and said, “I can see what’s going on and we need to get you help”.
It was a relief, to be honest. I felt really cornered.
A message I want to give to people is that we addicts get very good at manipulation and putting up all these masks to cover up.
Since I’ve been working at Hader Clinic Queensland, I’ve seen more and more professionals struggling with addiction.
I just gave a talk to some of them about the cycle of addiction and it’s been good for them to hear each other speak and agree that we get very good at putting up these masks.
We still work, we still keep up this front, but sooner or later it all comes crashing down.
The myth of being a “functioning addict” is alive and well.
The reality of it was that when most people met me for the first time, I was high on drugs and turns out they didn’t really know me at all.
To them, my behaviours were the norm, so I could carry my disease and nobody would be the wiser.
You do need to be honest with yourself and with others and identify what’s going on.
What we think is manageable in the height of addiction… once you get clean, you begin to see that it was very un-manageable. We think we’re managing because we’re not as bad as others.
Drugs have cost me self-respect and my spirituality.
For a good portion of my life I’ve been a walking shell of a person.
It cost me my marriage, my son’s health and well-being, and of course there are the legal ramifications. I’ve spent many admissions to mental health units in psychosis and each time I’ve relapsed the psychosis has come back faster, and worse than ever before.
Clean, I’m the calmest and most loving person you could met. But once I put that substance in my body, I become aggressive, can’t stand to feel cornered and I act out that way.
Someone I don’t even recognise.
The best thing about the Hader Clinic Queensland’s addiction treatment program is the holistic approach that is taken to recovery.
While I live a really strong 12 step program and am getting better at working it all the time, The Hader Clinic Queensland also offers additional clinical support.
Some people believe that all you need is the 12 Step program to become well again, and for many of us, that is not realistic. And this is where having access to the clinical team, the psychologist and the psychiatrist are so important.
The therapeutic community aspect is fantastic.
I love that our clients share their stories and come and “give back”. We have a mixture of both lived and non lived experience on the team and both sides are equally valuable. Everyone brings something to the table.
I do love working with our Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) clients.
They go through so much serving our country, and it’s wonderful to see that they have access to such a fantastic program here. I love doing the Psych Ed work here too – in terms of treatment, The Hader Clinic Queensland has its finger on the pulse with up to date methodologies and treatment models.
Knowledge is important for us in recovery. The education aspect is intense but it’s worth it.
Sometimes relapse is part of the story. But each time it happens and you go to rehab, you’re continuing to be educated. It’s OK. It’s a good way of saying, “what happened, and what can I do differently?”
It’s great that The Hader Clinic Queensland has seven and thirty day “option outs” in their program as it means that if somebody relapses, they can come back and start again. Because relapse is a part of many people’s cycles.
We encourage our clients to get involved with, and really take ownership of our therapeutic community.
When they do, I can see their self-esteem begin to skyrocket, especially when they get their first buddy and they have to show them through the program.
It’s those little things that so many people take for granted. When your self-esteem and confidence is that low, they are the things that start to breed a little bit of hope.
I envy those who come into treatment and remain clean from the start, but statistics show that this often isn’t the case, so the experience, strength and hope in that message if you relapse is, “get up, shake off and go again, because you will get stronger each time”.
For me, as part of working my 12 Step program, it’s important for me to share this experience, strength and hope.
It doesn’t have to be fluffy, i.e. you’re going to live a life beyond your wildest dreams. I like to keep it real. The residents say after a few weeks, “Wendy, we know …vigilance, vigilance, vigilance!”
That’s my message.
If relapse happens to you, this is what you have to remember.
Relapse isn’t failure in the long term. If anything, it’s just experience.
The sad part is, when we do relapse, there’s a percentage of us that don’t make it back to chalk it up and try again. So recovery is a gift.
All we can do is move on and learn from it and remember, there’s often no trigger for a relapse.
In my case, I let my guard down, I became disengaged and stopped working the program – and before I knew it, the addictive behaviours came sneaking back.
Within our fellowship, we call it an ‘action’ program.
I can watch people come in and work the program like steel, yet the rest of their life is chaotic.
Our program is about putting the 12 Step principles into all aspects of our life, rather than just the meeting room. It all comes down to moral conduct, holding yourself accountable and taking action.
We addicts are all good talkers. That’s what we do best. The excuses we make to get our hands on a drug!
We had a discussion about it in group education recently – once clients realised the level they sunk to in order to procure drugs they don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
It’s all about taking action which really counts.
With knowledge, we have the power to do something about it.
I’m glad that I can make that difference at The Hader Clinic Queensland.