After multiple attempts at rehab, Joe’s addiction led him to the Hader Clinic Queensland where he has been “given his life back”. This is his addiction recovery story.
My name’s Joe.
My journey started in Hungary, where I was born in the ’70s. My biological father was a chronic gambler and alcoholic and life was tough from the get go. Needless to say my parents’ marriage didn’t last long. My parents divorced when I was two years old and my mother had to raise me on her own.
When I was eleven, we experienced the Chernobyl nuclear explosion. Being a neighbouring country to the Soviet Union, we were also affected. It was a scary time, with many of us uncertain as to whether we’d live or die from the effects of the disaster. Many people around us died and I recall having to drink this medication that negated the effects of radioactivity daily for a long time. I believe that it’s reopened this year as a tourist attraction.
I was a normal kid who loved playing sports like water polo. When I was nine or ten, my mother met my stepfather and it was decided that we’d move to Germany, then make our way to Australia.
When my biological father discovered that we weren’t returning to Hungary, he was livid.
In a drunken rage, he decided to send his associates after me to kidnap me and take me back with him. That was a pretty hectic time – every time I’d go to school I’d be on high alert for slowing cars, sprinting and running for my life if I was suspicious it was them.
Luckily we were all able to move to Australia despite the dramas and we settled in Victoria. I went to three different high schools and that’s where I got introduced to drugs. At school I was bullied a bit for being “a wog” and ended up in a fight more days than not.
The second school involved meeting a so called group of friends that were into shoplifting and smoking bongs. Tried my first at 15, on the school grounds of course.We moved around a lot, which was stressful, because every new school I went to meant I had to make a new set of friends.
The boys and I would skateboard, smoke bongs, ciggies, steal stuff and plaster whatever we could find with graffiti. It was around this time that alcohol was introduced into my world.
We were all drinking – back then we didn’t have to consume much to get tipsy and stoned. We thought we were the coolest and toughest boys around.
I couldn’t wait to turn eighteen, start driving and buy alcohol legally. I was also hanging out to go clubbing, be an adult and do what adult people do.
In 2000, my parents decided to move to Brisbane, but I refused to go. I was happy hanging out with all of my mates in Victoria.
Life carried on. I got involved in ice hockey, even playing for a good team for a while. Unfortunately, I developed Baker’s cysts behind my knees which started restricting my movements. Even though they can be drained, the cysts are annoying and painful and eventually ended my ice hockey days as a player.
When I was playing, a mate and I decided to go to an Irish pub for an evening out. I remember getting pretty smashed, and in my drunken state, I managed to meet my future wife.
How did I know that she was “different” from all the other girls? She was last to leave the pub.
I started spending more and more time in Melbourne with her. I loved the lifestyle and at that time I was working as a plasterer for a family friend’s company. This would later set me up for the future, only I didn’t know this at the time.
In this role, I did not have to complete an apprenticeship, they taught me absolutely everything and after a year of work I was running my own crew.
My girlfriend and I were madly in love. I moved to Melbourne to be with her, selling my house and setting up down there. I started a new role with a boutique building company, but ended up returning to my old employer.
Our company started expanding and we got involved in commercial sites. I was managing and working on the sites simultaneously and people started to see me as one of the company’s leaders.
We got married and honeymooned in Hawaii, where we argued over trivial crap. We were both alcoholics that drank to assist us in coming down from the drugs we were starting to use.
I began to doubt the relationship, but somehow we stayed together. We even visited Hungary, but there was something that wasn’t quite right.
With lots of drugs and booze involved, our relationship began to become like a rollercoaster that I couldn’t wait to get off. Our addictions gave us that initial relationship spark, but they also caused us to drift apart.
So..at 33, I was divorced. But I was happy as I was with a new lady and ready for a new chapter.
She worked in finance and we lived together in Melbourne.
She wasn’t much of a drinker, but boy, did she love her drugs. In the addiction sense, I was back to square one with this chick, but at least I had a driver.
Things were great. I would drink and she would drive and we’d both be off our faces on drugs at the same time.
I was so happy with this life that I even proposed to her, thinking that this was the life I was looking for and that she was “the one”.
I was wary though. I didn’t want to lose another house so I made sure I paid for everything, while she saved her money. We split after seven years.
Shortly after that, I made my first suicide attempt by overdosing on drugs. My new girlfriend had been suspicious about my state of mind and came home early from work to check in on me. I was unconscious on the lounge room floor.
I don’t remember anything, except waking up in hospital with all my friends and family around me. Felt like I’d been wrapped up in foil, a bit like a kebab.
I was sent for my first stint in rehab. I completed my time being drunk during the process and my attitude towards my addictive behaviours got worse.
Partying hard was the name of the game. I was getting bored with drugs.. but alcohol? It just kept calling my name. I rationalised that drinking and being drunk 24/7 was a much safer option than hard drugs.
Fast forward another year and I was with a new partner who loved me dearly and would let me get away with my addictive behaviours. Of course, this wasn’t helping me. The support that was being given to me by both herself and her mother enabled my addiction to continue unfettered.
This meant as well as doing illicit drugs and drinking, I’d be into her prescription medication as well. This went on for 18 months. It wasn’t all bad as I was looking after both of them financially, servicing their cars and even paying for hospital treatments. I think they liked having a male around and therefore accepted me, addiction and all.
I tried another stint in rehab. After I left it was straight down to the bottle shop to see if “anything had changed”. Actually, if anything, I could now put away more alcohol than ever. I had completely lost my will to remain sober and it seemed that nothing was going to pull me out of the darkness that was beginning to consume me.
One day after work and an evening of drinking I decided to put myself on the edge of my first floor balcony, reach my arms behind my back and lean forward as far as I could, falling head first onto the driveway.
“Surely that will be a guaranteed way to end it?” I thought.
Imagine my surprise and horror when I woke up from a coma with a split skull, two protruding discs in my neck and collapsed lung.
I thought that, “maybe, something has to change”.
I sold my house, packed my belongings and moved to Brisbane to be closer to my Mum. I also studied and changed my career – and started working in the fitness and nutrition industry.
Picking up work in the industry seemed to come naturally for me – I worked in several gyms and running group fitness sessions was easy for me due to my prior experience managing up to forty crew on commercial sites. I wasn’t short of work, or business propositions.
I even got asked to be filmed training in front of a green screen at Channel Seven. This was the first time I had experienced having my hair and makeup done. It was a long day, shooting, doing various angles and takes of my training, but the camera and lighting crew were awesome. It was such a rush having all these people around you, talking and directing you while you were in the spotlight.
In the background, the relationship I had with my stepfather was growing very toxic. He was emotionally abusive, cunning and manipulative. Even drinking could not suppress the out of control feelings I was experiencing.
Just three days after my photo shoot I jumped out of the ninth floor of a hotel room balcony, thinking that, surely, this was a guaranteed way to go.
I’m not sure how it happened but for some reason, I survived. When I woke up from my coma, the hospital staff informed me that I had landed on the sixth floor. That had not been part of my plan.
Although it appeared on the outside that I was making a speedy recovery, I was angry and upset on the inside. I couldn’t believe that I’d made three suicide attempts and managed to fuck every one of them up. I decided that I’d try and get better and strong enough so that when I decided to try to kill myself again it would finally work.
To my surprise, the hospital offered me a job, which led to more studies and qualifications to be able to pursue a different career. I got a lot of joy out of helping people from all walks of life with various capabilities.
But I was still drinking to get me through the day. I had it timed perfectly. Be at the bottle shop for a 10am opening with all the other alcos (alcoholics) and buy three bottles of wine and a bottle of Vodka.
I’d have a bottle of wine when I got up and at the end of the day I’d have half the Vodka and more wine. To help me get to sleep I’d have the rest of the Vodka and yet again more wine. And when I’d wake up in the night shaking from withdrawal symptoms, I’d down more wine until it was time to rise, repeat and head back to the bottle shop.
One morning at home, I received a phone call from a nurse in Hungary, advising me of my biological father’s passing. I didn’t know how to process those feelings except by using more drugs and alcohol.
I lost all touch with reality.
My decision was simple. I had two choices – I was going to die from overuse of alcohol, prescription meds and illicit drugs – or I was going to jump in front of a train at Roma Street Station.
I vetoed the idea of the train – putting the poor train driver through such an act would have been the most selfish move ever.
Instead I asked my mother to take me to hospital, telling her that ‘I needed help, I was done living the way I had been. That I wanted to change things. ‘
And that’s how I ended up at the Hader Clinic Queensland.
With people that understood. The staff… the staff were amazing. Particularly Mark. He understood the train thing, telling me, “brother, that was me before I entered recovery”.
Everyone gave me hope and immediately I was accepted into the therapeutic community. From the outset, I’ve worked at my recovery every day and continue to do so by going to meetings, doing step work and staying connected with those who really care about me.
After ninety days of residential addiction recovery, I moved into the transition house. I’m in no rush to go back to work. I’m still learning to process my emotions which I’ve never done sober. It’s been challenging often feeling angry and learning to sit with that.
Finally, I’m looking forward to the future. I’m grateful to the Hader Clinic Queensland for giving me my life back.