Lizzie shares her journey from private school high achiever to drug addiction, psychosis and redemption.
By Taylah Fellows, Courier Mail
Pictures: Lyndon Mechielsen/Courier Mail
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Lizzie’s journey from a privileged upbringing to a decade-long battle with drug addiction and eventual redemption is both an inspiring and cautionary tale.
She had a privileged upbringing, was an academic achiever at Brisbane private school and loved playing sport, but still found it hard to make friends.
For Lizzie, turning to drugs at age 14 was a way to connect with others.
Alcohol made her feel “comfortable” for the first time in her life, but it quickly became boring and was replaced with benders, marijuana, MDMA and cocaine.
Days bled together and sleepless nights merged into school days, so she took Ritalin and other study drugs to complete assessments and exams.
It wasn’t long after she morphed into a “party girl” that teenage Lizzie was introduced to methamphetamine.
“It was a big secret up until it wasn‘t,” she said.
“I knew how dangerous it was … we’d get amped up on ice and be super stimulated and then take GHB which does the complete opposite.
“I hid it pretty well for my family until friends were overdosing and I was failing school.
“I was getting really skinny and I wasn’t coming home and eventually, I was in a drug psychosis and I ended up just having to tell mum what was going on.”
Despite experiencing several mental breakdowns during her college years, Lizzie didn’t consider herself an addict.
She tried rehabilitation. It didn’t stick.
“While I was there my best friend died,” she said.
“I was in so much emotional pain I turned to self harm and I ended up taking someone else’s medication in there to try and soothe myself and I got kicked out.”
Mental health disorders, including substance use disorders, are the third leading cause of healthy years of life lost for Queenslanders.
Drug use disorders alone cost Queenslanders 50,854 years in 2022, up 2.1 per cent compared to 2021.
A 2022 inquiry into improving mental health outcomes found additional alcohol and withdrawal beds were needed across the state, as well as other specialist services to treat people living with substance abuse disorders including pharmacotherapy, psychosocial intervention, rehabilitation and harm reduction services.
There was a particular lack of treatment options and beds available in regional areas, with the committee also recommending more rehabilitation beds be made available for family members supporting loved ones with addiction.
Member for Moggil and member of the inquiry committee Dr Christian Rowan said there were significant accessibility challenges in the public rehab system and better service planning was needed to ensure various needs were being met in different communities.
“Addiction is a neurobiological disorder, a combination of genetics and neurobiological factors which need to be understood,” he said.
“That requires multidisciplinary care by various health professionals.
“Health workforce and planning for the future when it comes to medical specialists, physician and psychiatrists, nursing workforce and allied health professionals is really important and there are significant challenges in recruiting the workforce required to meet those issues.”
When Lizzie tried getting clean a second time, she completed her first year of psychology, got a good job.
But suddenly, “something clicked” and she “decided to self destruct again”.
“I lost that good job, totalled my car. I was getting done with possession, drunk driving, drug raids,” she said.
“Needles came into the picture. I started hanging around sex workers.
“But I was normalising it. I just saw the real world as a painful, unmanageable place … thinking like I just want to kill myself.”
A moment of clarity, and a deep desire to change her life led Lizzie back to the Hader Clinic Queensland Private.
She detoxed, completed three months of in-stay rehabilitation and another three months of transitional rehabilitation.
Lizzie is now 24 and 14 months sober, working a successful job with a new love in her life.
“For the first time in my life I don’t think about wanting to change the way I feel every minute of the day,” she said.
“I enjoy sleeping now. I don’t think I slept for like five years.
“I have people who care about me and they’re not transactional relationships.
“It’s cliche, but I had to figure out who I was, what colour I liked, what food I liked, just recreating my identity.
“I realised the real world is better than the world I was in.”
In 2021-22, 182 publicly funded alcohol and other drug treatment agencies in Queensland provided 49,674 treatments to 34,565 people.
Most received an average of 1.4 treatments, which is lower than the national average of 1.8 treatments.
A Queensland Health spokesman said three new residential rehab facilities were being built in Cairns, Bundaberg and Ipswich to meet rising demand.
The Ipswich rehab location is still under consultation, with the Bundaberg facility due to open in late 2024, and Cairns by 2025.
“The new adult residential treatment services will improve access to specialist treatment and support by delivering withdrawal management and care, as well as rehabilitation programs,” the spokesman said.
On a mission to destigmatise addiction, Lizzie now uses her success story to remind other addicts that help is available if they want it.
But she considers herself lucky to have stayed at a private facility, with many unable to afford it or struggling to access a public rehab bed.
“When I was 19 I thought, surely I can’t be an addict,” she said.
“People see addicts as criminals who are going to rob you and they’ve got diseases.
“But I’ve seen addiction look like so many different things to different people and -the feelings are the same, that deep despair and hopelessness and dependence on something outside of yourself to feel okay.
“To find others who feel like me was mind blowing and rehab is about surrender. It gave me space between that last use to really build up some sort of willpower or ability to not use drugs.”
Aids is a confidential support service for people in Queensland with alcohol and other drug concerns is available 24.7. Call 1800 177 833. To find out more about the Hader Clinic Queensland Private, click here or call 1300 856 847.
This article appeared in the Courier Mail on November 11, 2023.