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I Was An Army Officer. And An Ice Addict.

Peter, whose name has been changed to maintain confidentiality, is a former Australian Army officer who served in Somalia, Rwanda (during the Kibeho massacre) and completed three tours of Afghanistan. Peter completed our residential treatment program for ice addiction and, at the time of writing, is seven months clean. This is his addiction story.

I had a good upbringing in Northern Queensland with a loving family; mum, dad and a younger brother. I had always wanted to be in the military, so as soon as I turned 15 I joined the Australian Navy as a submariner and transferred to the Australian Army later on.

My army career was excellent. It was fulfilling and engaging. After further education at Sydney University I was promoted to Officer.

To take up a post as an officer, I had to do a stint away, and was transferred to Darwin, working as a Signals Officer for the Artillery Regiment.

Whilst I was there I bought a house with my wife and our kids were about to start high school. Life seemed good, but I had to return to Sydney after my secondment to Darwin. By then my wife had secured a very good job and was hesitant to come back to Sydney. So we decided that I would be “married unaccompanied” for the next few years with me moving to Sydney and her staying in Darwin.

I came back to Sydney and accumulated a lot of operations (in the field) experience. I served in Somalia in 1993, and Rwanda in 1995. I was on the ground during the traumatic Kibeho massacre, and I also did three tours of Afghanistan.

I eventually came back to Australia and one day I literally woke up feeling terrible.

I immediately sought help for my mental health. It’s easy in hindsight to see what was going on. It wasn’t PTSD, it was rather a litany of smaller, yet significant factors that were contributing to my anxiety and depression. My wife and children were living in Darwin, I was alone in the barracks, and since arriving home had started to lose confidence in my career prospects and myself. It felt like my self-esteem had been slowly nibbled away and I hadn’t even noticed.

By then it was 2012 and I was 2IC (second-in-command) within my squadron. My role involved looking after the sick and wounded returning from their tours.

One gentleman I looked after had become a paraplegic after serving overseas. I helped organise housing, medical appointments and so forth, which was quite stressful.

These series of events were like a perfect storm, I was burnt out and exhausted, both physically and mentally. I was depressed, anxious and was letting my previously healthy habits of physical activity and socialising with my friends fall by the wayside.

Then I tried ice.

I had never previously engaged in any drug taking behaviour whatsoever. I didn’t smoke and hardly drank, so it was an out of character moment for me when I tried ice. I was out one evening with a policeman who offered me the drug. I accepted and as soon as I took a drag on that ice pipe all of my problems and worries seemed immediately to be fixed. I felt proactive and had a good deal of energy.

However, that wasn’t to last. I was addicted from day one. I remember waking up the next morning thinking, “where can I get some more?”

I started using several times a week in the privacy of my room at the barracks. Sometimes I’d use with doctors, lawyers and policemen and soon I realised that I had a problem.

I was ashamed, and rationalised that the only way I’d get out of it was by discharging from the army. My wife was shocked, the army was my life, my family.  Thinking that this fresh start was an opportunity to stop using, I moved back home. It didn’t work.

A few months later I was asked to come back into the army but my addiction continued. By now I had started to use intravenously and I felt like I had no hope. Rather than being caught up in a party lifestyle, I was falling deeper into an existence of shame and seclusion. My depression and anxiety were now starting to spiral out of control – I was acting against all of my personal and army values. I had always been so proud of my career in Defence and valued serving my country above all else.

Every time I shot up, I thought, “what the hell is wrong with me?”

I knew that I had to come forward and ask for help. I had tried beating out the need for ice by myself over the past 18 months and I was desperate. Nobody had suspected a thing, not even my wife.

Eventually I mustered up the courage to come forward to my Commanding Officer, who was extremely supportive. Initially, I felt a sense of relief – this problem was going to be sorted once and for all.

However, it was a nightmare. The Army, despite its best intentions, didn’t know what to do with me. I completed a detox in a hospital, then was left in my barracks room to my own devices. It was a disaster. I was alone and overwhelmed by cravings. I relapsed again and again.

I was sent to a rehab centre in Brisbane.

Unfortunately, you were allowed outside to go out and do things like buy a coffee. While out one day I witnessed a drug deal happening in a park across the road and it gave me an idea.

Even though I had struggled with drug use, nothing physically bad had ever happened to me. What if I deliberately made something bad happen – would I then be finally motivated to make the drug use stop?

So I went and bought as many drugs as I could from my dealer and then used as much as I could, in alleys and streets. For five days the army classified me as a missing person. I was shooting up in parks and living rough, hoping that I could demonise my using. I wanted to make drugs seem so appalling that rehab was the only option. I pushed it to the max and I used and used until I had to call an ambulance. Surprisingly, I was discharged from hospital within a few hours and it was back to the barracks.

Eventually, I posted a positive drug test. Defence decided to post me back to Darwin to be with my family.

After all my drug abuse, there wasn’t one unit that would take me on and it was decided to send me back on long-term convalescence. There was stress around whether my employers were going to kick me out over my drug use or medically discharge me. Lawyers got involved. After a lot of stress, I was medically discharged. I dealt with it the only way I knew how – by using ice.

My wife cut me off, she didn’t know what to do with me. I ended up on the doorstep of a Government rehab centre in tears. I lasted three weeks. It was very regimented but the program was based on punishment. And there were a lot of people there with ankle bracelets on from the local prison which was pretty disconcerting – they had jumped at rehab so they wouldn’t have to spend as much time in jail.

Nobody wanted to be clean.

As soon as I left, I started using again. This time the Department of Veterans Affairs got me a place in a private rehab facility in Adelaide. It was a 12 week program. I got in there very keen to do the right thing, but didn’t realise that I was fighting the system. I was trying to control everything, I thought I was back in the army and I was bossing my fellow addicts around and complaining to the staff. I was asked to leave two weeks before the program ended.

I thought I was fine, but I wasn’t and I used again within two weeks of leaving.

I went back home and fell into a pattern of craving drugs and seeking out sexual encounters (ice enhances libido).

Ashamed, I packed up the car, left and moved into a motel where I spent my days shooting up.

I even missed my mother’s death and funeral. I came back home to a message on Facebook from a woman I didn’t know claiming that she was my sister and that my mother had died. It turned out I had another three siblings that I knew nothing about. I was traumatised by the revelation and that just compounded things – I kept using, I moved to Brisbane and became homeless.

Eventually a charity that assists homeless veterans, Veterans 360, became aware of my situation, found me, and eventually got me into The Hader Clinic Queensland.

I was truly past rock bottom and I knew that this time, I was finally ready.

Learning to relinquish the desire to control everything has been a challenge but this time I knew that I would have to practice acceptance if I was to get better.

The staff at The Hader Clinic Queensland supported me, challenged me and have helped me to live just for today, one day at a time.

My biggest hurdle has been hanging onto my past but I’m looking forward to the future. My wife has asked me back and we are slowly rebuilding our lives, one day at a time.

Today I am seven months clean and consider each day I move forward to be one of celebration. I am starting to feel like my old self again. I feel hopeful for my future. After working with the Hader Clinic Queensland, and taking one day at a time, I can now truly say that recovery is possible.

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The Hader Clinic Queensland is an approved provider of residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation services for eligible Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) patients. Eligible DVA clients can now self-refer to The Hader Clinic QLD for immediate admission. For more information please visit the Department of Veteran Affairs’ website  or call us on 1300 856 847.

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