Wil proves there is hope and recovery for people whose lives have been destroyed by their long-term drug addiction. Watch his story.
You could say that being an addict is the only thing I’ve known – because I’ve spent at least half of my twenty four years in active addiction – as well as several years in jail. You’d think that there would be no hope for someone whose addiction has led them down this path, right?
WRONG! Thanks to the Hader Clinic Queensland, I was reborn into a life free of drugs five months ago. I’m currently undertaking the Clinic’s transition housing program.
I came straight to rehab from jail, so being out in the community feels very different, but the support I’m receiving has been helping me a lot. I’m currently undertaking a challenge – to attend 180 NA meetings in 90 days. That works out to be two per day. It’s been really good in that I’ve been making new connections and friends.
My name’s Wil and I was what is known as a “poly user” – my substance of addiction was anything and everything. I’d use whatever worked to numb the pain or transport me out of my misery to a different place.
I used opiates, benzos, alcohol, ice – you name it, I tried it.
My problems started early in childhood – in primary school. I was a naturally introverted, shy and nervous kid, who found it almost overwhelming trying to make friends and connect with other people. It was as if I never felt really very comfortable in my own skin – at home or at school.
In primary school I was bullied a lot. This left me feeling worthless and empty. I hated myself. All I saw when I looked in the mirror was “not good enough”.
In Year Seven and Eight I started smoking cigarettes. I remember feeling like I was at the bottom of the food chain. I remember searching out male role models who weren’t victims.
I had spent my whole childhood feeling like I was a victim. I’d had enough.
I surrounded myself with people who I perceived were my opposite. I started drinking alcohol and smoking pot. I was twelve years old. Eventually I picked up ice.
Pot use went on for many years. I became violent and unpredictable. I transformed my persona into that of a predator and built up a “tough guy” persona – so I could feel comfortable and safe. I was untouchable.
If I wasn’t using, I didn’t feel like I was functioning. Without continual using I’d start feeling apprehensively uncomfortable. I’d feel hopeless and that my worth amounted to nothing. Using took me away from these feelings – and I thought that drugs were the solution to every problem that I had. When I drank or used, I’d have these momentary windows of self confidence – by myself and in a social situation.
With drugs, I believed that I was capable of living and managing life, just like everyone else. I’d feel moments of happiness or what I thought was self-esteem, especially when I got onto ice.
Now, looking back, I can see that I was trapped.
Drugs was never about a party or socialising with friends. I used to survive my own existence.
My parents didn’t know about my drug use for a long time. There’s a fair history of alcoholism in my family, but not drug use. I was good at being able to keep it under wraps. However, eventually it caught up with me.
They didn’t really know how to handle it, except to ask me to stop. They told me that if I didn’t stop, I couldn’t live at home and that so long as I was using, that they couldn’t be in my life.
The problem was that I was in so deep by this stage – even if I’d wanted to, I had no idea how to stop. I wasn’t capable of it.
I went to see psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors. They couldn’t help me. I was put on a cocktail of medications that made my head worse. They didn’t know what my problem was – before addiction or with it.
My solution was to leave home. Without any income or employment, I turned to crime to support my using. I started dealing and I pushed anyone away that had ever tried to help me.
I managed to stay under the criminal radar until I turned 18. At this stage my ice use was out of control. It was horrific. I started doping myself up on opiates as the ice was no longer working to numb the pain.
To fill that empty hole, I started adding more and more drugs – in different combinations. I was desperately trying not to feel.
I experienced drug induced psychosis for years. I used a lot of benzodiazepines which made me forget everything I had done. This included my first armed robbery at eighteen – I spent three months in jail before I got bailed.
As soon as I was released, my use continued and so did my crimes. Again, I was sent to jail. In a way, it was almost a relief as I began to feel comfortable there. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere, that I was accepted, that there was a place for me to go. This was because I was surrounded by like-minded people who were broken, destroyed and hopeless as well.
Upon release I’d try to maintain my drug use, or cut back as a way of trying to remain functional. Naturally, it didn’t work. I’d be off my face and out of control.
I got a job when I was on bail. It lasted a month, then I was back on the run. That resulted in another twelve month jail term.
After this release, I thought I’d try and find a girlfriend to fill the void. However, she was also using, and it wasn’t long before I was back on the run, arrested, and this time jailed for two years.
When I was released, I tried the same things. I tried to get a job, I tried to maintain and not escalate my drug use, I’d try and swap one drug for another. However, there wasn’t a day that I didn’t use some substance of addiction to get by. I wouldn’t go to sleep at night unless I knew there was a hit of something I could look forward to in the morning.
From the moment I woke up, my life was full of drugs. Whether it was a needle in my arm, or something in my mouth, it was always there.
My life of crime continued to support my habit.
Again, I went back to jail and was bailed to another rehab. That went to shit really quickly. They wanted to deal with my mental health issues before dealing with my addiction. The last thing I needed was more medication. I escaped the rehab and lasted seven days on the run.
That transgression resulted in me going back in jail for sixteen months. At this time, my mum came back into my life. She visited me in jail. I tried to push her away. She had received an inheritance that would pay for a proper rehab and also set me up after my transition program.
She persisted in visiting and as I couldn’t see a future for myself, I kept trying to push her away. I thought the only hope for my future was to have enough drugs so I could survive it.
At this stage, I felt so bad that I didn’t want to leave jail. I was exhausted, defeated and broken.
However, she wasn’t giving up. After seven days out of jail and not using, I was suicidal. I began to see that I was causing her pain, I was causing myself pain and I was causing everyone in my family pain. Surely there had to be a better way? I was now at the stage where I couldn’t live with using anymore, yet I also couldn’t live without using.
When I was still in jail, my mother started looking at rehab options. I was still using in jail and didn’t want a bar of it. There weren’t many rehabs that would take me, given my criminal history and that I was on parole.
However, she discovered The Hader Clinic Queensland and when she called them, she had a sense that this was the right place for me. During that initial phone call, the staff related to all the problems I experienced as a kid as well as the addiction. They seemed to understand the person I was.
I got paroled from jail straight into the rehab. The rehab became my parole address.
I managed to arrive at the Hader Clinic Queensland detoxed, broken, defeated and willing to give anything a try.
I was also suspicious, sceptical and unconvinced.
I walked down those stairs to a big welcome. Staff members Donna and Mark were there to meet me. There was something about them that I could relate to, especially Mark. They spoke to me on a level where I felt accepted, and welcome. It was a surreal experience.
This part where I felt I related to them? They didn’t talk to me like a psychiatrist or a medical doctor. They talked to me as a person. It helped me to understand that I had a way forward.
I began to realise that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I started going to meetings and whether I told them or not, heard my own stories in some way.
JJ (support worker) was a big part of my experience there – the way he shared his message and recovery was an inspiration to me.
The penny really dropped when I realised that people live and deal with life without using. It was amazing to see that it was possible that people who had lived like me were making a life for themselves and were genuinely happy.
Watching the way these people had recovered and seeing how tall and proud they walked made me want the same thing.
I’ve been in the Transition Program for two months. I’m using the NA framework and doing the twelve steps. I have a great sponsor and I’m currently up to step five. I’m about to move in with someone from NA who is four years’ clean.
I would be lying if I said those stepping stones from being practically institutionalised in jail have been easy. I’m catching up on many things like learning to budget, cook and clean. It’s a bit intimidating at first, but the support I have had makes it worthwhile.
At the same time, I’m looking forward to taking on all those bits of life that I’ve missed. Living life clean. I appreciate every single day.
I want to get across to anyone who’s been living in jail and thinks that there’s no hope and it’s the end of the road to think again. There are stepping stones that you can take to get your life back.
Thank you to The Hader Clinic Queensland for giving me hope, and my life back.