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I was an addict. Now I help others.

Fran is one of the many friendly faces you will see frequently at our retreat. Fran is one of our support staff. She is also a recovering addict.

We believe it is important, as part of our addiction treatment program that we have staff that can relate to the person in recovery and understand their situation, thoughts and feelings as it helps create an environment where the addict feels safe and secure, and more at ease to open themselves up to the components of the treatment program, resulting in better outcomes.

Fran has kindly offered to share her story .

My name is Fran

I am the eldest of 7 children, born to a “good” Catholic family in rural Victoria.

Growing up was not a great experience for me.

My parents were dairy farmers, devoutly religious and strict disciplinarians. Because they did not believe in contraception, our family grew fast – my next younger sister and I are only 11 months apart, Irish twins. Three more brothers and three more sisters followed, as well as two siblings who did not survive.

Between running the farm and providing for 7 kids – including my youngest sister’s special needs due to severe Downs syndrome – my parents had neither time nor energy for affection.

There were simply too many mouths to feed and nappies to change for them to spend one-on-one time with me.

I never felt particularly loved or special. It didn’t seem as though I mattered to my parents.

There are no memories of being cuddled, held or told I was loved; however, I do remember being belted and sent to school with welts on my legs.

School, unfortunately, was not a great experience either.

Fitting in seemed impossible

Because of my parents’ religious beliefs I was the only student sent to sit in the library when time came for sex education.

Because my mother was either too busy or simply not interested, she taught me nothing when it came to personal hygiene – I didn’t know about tampons or deodorant – which made me stand out even more.

I did not belong with the ‘smart kids’ because they considered me a ‘deadshit’ – yet the ‘deadshits’ rejected me because I was too smart.

High school was a very lonely time for me.

I started sneaking out of the house at night towards the end of Year 11 because I was desperate to fit in and socialise. It was not to be.

My parents busted me and promptly shipped me off to boarding school for my final year of high school.

My boarding school experience? Not great.

Because my mother bought all my school clothes second hand and refused to give me any spending money, there was no way for me to fit in at my new school. Still,

I did manage to finish and pass Year 12.

Once school was done, I applied for a nursing course and was accepted. I wasn’t particularly keen on becoming a nurse, but the course was my ticket to freedom.

Back in the day, training as a nurse meant you got paid as well. It was the quickest route to independence from my parents – that was all I cared about.

Over the next 15 years I accomplished quite a lot

I earned my general nursing certificate and followed it up with a degree in psychiatric nursing.

I travelled the world.

I moved interstate and became a pharmaceutical rep, mainly to get out of nursing. Nursing was not for me, I actually hated helping other people.

Still, no matter how much I achieved, I always felt restless, irritable and discontent.

I became a passionate triathlete and competed for over ten years. Triathlon became an obsession, it almost filled the ‘God-shaped hole’ in me. I won quite a few races and placed in the top ten nationwide, but even though sport helped me improve my self-image, it was still far from positive.

Discovering drugs

I first discovered drugs after I had a bad, bad bike accident while training for Ironman Hawaii – it was to be my second time at that race.

Things were going really well at the time. I had a good job for a pharmaceutical company. I was engaged to a doctor. I was fit.

Suddenly, from one moment to the next I had broken bones to heal, couldn’t train at all and worked only with difficulty.

An old acquaintance got in touch and invited me to come to Big Day Out.

The group I went with were all taking speed, so I tried and loved it. It felt as though it was a way to feel like my pre-accident self again.

I started taking speed every day and didn’t stop, even when I was able to train again.

I hid my speed use from my fiancé, but he knew something was up. Still, I managed to hide my drug habit for almost a whole year – I even attempted to race while high, but became dehydrated and collapsed.

Finally I told my fiancé, in the hope that he would help me quit; instead he was angry and kicked me out.

In some ways this was the beginning of my downward spiral.

I quit triathlon and started partying all the time.

Before long I lost my job for the pharmaceutical company and started working as a masseuse, the money was good.

My new lifestyle brought nothing but madness.

I had a brief ‘relationship’ with a criminal and dealer, until he knocked my front tooth out.

My confidence plummeted, I used more and more; until I eventually became homeless and started stealing to survive.

In 2005 I went to jail for the first time – actually, I was in and out of jail a total of three times that year.

It was also the year I found out I had hepatitis C.

In the middle of all this, I met the father of my oldest son.

He was using and violent, but he did say he wanted to get clean – so we went north to Alligator Creek and got clean together.

When we found out I was pregnant, we moved to the Sunshine Coast. We didn’t know anyone there, it was a fresh start. My boyfriend even got a job.

For a short time things were looking up.

When I had my son, Hunter, his father relapsed and became extremely violent. So much so, I ended up in a women’s refuge.

I was trying to hold onto sobriety, I was ‘white knuckling’ it, as they say. However, after I became pregnant again – to a friend of a friend who was using at the time – I relapsed and things got out of control fast.

It was as though my disease had been doing push-ups in the corner, just waiting for me to get back in the ring.

My boys were 18months and three years old when they were removed from my care.

Rehab

I kept using and slid deeper and deeper into a life of crime.

I was on the ‘qmerit’ program, but I was failing miserably. Finally, I was presented with a choice: go to jail or go to rehab.

In a rare moment of clarity, I chose rehab.

And so my long and arduous journey of recovery started.

I did two stints of residential treatment – one six months and one ten months – and relapsed after both of them.

A few months into my second relapse I ended up in the hospital with a blood infection, naturally a result of using.

I spent four weeks hooked up to intravenous antibiotics and it was in my miserable and lonely hospital bed that I finally hit rock bottom.

I was being evicted from my flat.

I was in yet another abusive relationship and had just taken out yet another domestic violence order against yet another horrible boyfriend.

I was facing a lengthy prison sentence.

My children had been in care for three years and the authorities were weighing up whether or not to impose a care and protection order (meaning I would be denied contact with my children until they came of age, 12 years to go for my eldest).

On top of all this, I was deeply, desperately addicted. I had even used during my stay at the hospital and now the cravings were becoming unbearably intense.

The pain was awful and I was calling one dealer after another, but no one was answering.

I was a reduced to a crying mess. I saw no hope for the future. All I could think about was how badly I wanted something to take the pain away.

Then, for the first time in decades, I prayed.

I asked God for help, not just for my own sake but for the sake of my children. There was no way I could go on like this, so I begged God to show me what to do.

A calm came over me. Thinking back on it now, I believe it was a spiritual moment. The sense of impending doom left me.

Suddenly I was certain that everything would be okay.

I realised I had been offered the tools to make everything okay over and over again at the few Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings I had attended; for whatever reason I hadn’t felt as though any of their suggested steps applied to me.

I had a NA sponsor, whom I never called; I was doing one or two meetings per week at the very most, I didn’t have a home group, a service position or any motivation to do the steps.

Until now.

Lying in the hospital bed, drenched in tears, I suddenly believed without a doubt that if I followed the NA steps all would be well.

When some of my dealers finally rang me back the next day, I told them I had changed my mind.

I stayed in the hospital for two more weeks, withdrawing and thinking, always thinking.

The day I was released I started going to NA meetings and kept going, every day. I got a home group and a service position and started doing the steps.

Things started to improve. Dramatically.

Yes, I still was evicted. However, I did find a new place to stay.

Eight months into my recovery process, I went to the Supreme Court, fully expecting to receive a jail sentence and ready to face the music. I had a reference letter from a seasoned member of the AA/NA community, which the judge read out in court, as well as letters from my doctors and case worker stating they were planning to reunite me and my sons.

To my endless surprise and relief, I got parole.

Three months later, miraculously, I got my children back.

Together we entered something of an upward spiral, for a change.

We received better housing. I started studying again. I completed my first round of steps and started on my second.

I got a new job in a rehabilitation facility, helping other addicts. I earned my second diploma and, after 18 months, was finally approved for a BlueCard.

Things have been going great ever since.

This year I have become part of the NA initiative at the Women’s Correctional Centre in Wacol – the same place where I was an inmate in 2005.

Going back to prison, even as a support worker, has been a surreal experience; the place has not changed a bit.

Every Friday I visit the prison to attend and mediate at NA meetings; we get around 20 women in each session.

I’m also donating a NA basic text to the detention unit (DU), I’ve even made it a special bookmark. The general manager of the prison has approved this donation just recently and given permission that these items are place in the DU.

This may not sound like a big deal, but it is a huge deal to me.

During my time in prison I spent a week in the DU and it was one of the most traumatic experiences of my incarceration.

The DU is nothing but a metal room, no windows, just a mattress and a bible. That’s it.

It nearly drove me crazy to spend seven days in there – and I absolutely refused to read that bible.

Knowing that the next person suffering through the isolation of the DU will have the comfort of the NA basics and a small personal touch in form of the bookmark…it just feels really nice.

Today I can honestly say that I am deeply grateful for the life I have.

I have the chance to heal the damage I have done to my relationship with my sons; and although it is a slow process, I feel we make progress every day.

I have a beautiful partner, who loves and supports me – and is just great with my kids.

Currently I attend at least three meetings a week, I have almost finished my second round of the steps.

Prayer and meditation are part of my every day, I feel I have an amazing connection with my higher power.

I feel truly optimistic about my future; I’m even thinking of turning my trials and tribulations into a book to help others to overcome addiction.

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