Mind & Body

‘I’ve been told I don’t look like a drug addict’

Around 1 in 20 Australians has an addiction or substance abuse problem. Sarah is one of them. She gives an honest account of her journey of anxiety, unsuccessful IVF treatments, and subsequent Ice addiction in SBS’s new series Addicted Australia.

I’ve been told I don’t look like a drug addict. I’m guessing that’s supposed to be a compliment, but it’s not; not to me. To me, it’s a judgement, it’s a stereotype, it’s a stigma that drug addicts are all the same and I’m somehow different, because I don’t look like someone you may have pictured in your head.

Addiction is among us, everywhere. But we are much more than our addictions. We are daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, parents, friends. We are often hurt or damaged under our exterior and recovering from trauma. Well, I am.

My name is Sarah, and crystal meth (ice) has been my drug of “choice” or for the past four to five years. Ice has been my saviour, my friend, my worst enemy and everything in between.

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Due to life experiences and trauma dating back to early childhood, I have suffered from severe anxiety for most of my life and severe depression on and off for around half of my life.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back, the heartbreak I’d never experienced, the biggest disappointment my body could possibly give me as a woman, was when I was trying to become a mother.

Seven IVF attempts failed. Acupuncture, Chinese medicine, standing on my head, adoption inquiries. Failed, failed, failed, failed. It was official, I was a failure. My lifelong dream of becoming a mum was a series of heartbreak after heartbreak for years and years.

I spent a lot of time in bed, severely depressed. I couldn’t take the pain any longer. The hurt, the despair, I felt like I had nothing to live for. My marriage had started to drift apart and I felt completely alone.

I attempted to take my life, another thing I felt I failed at. So, each day, I lay in bed feeling hopeless, worthless, and a burden to my family. Until the day I remembered crystal meth and its magic. It was to be my saviour, or so I thought.

It was a Monday night. I took to the streets of Melbourne, quite literally, to hunt down a little bag of the white shard crystals off a complete stranger. It wasn’t a conscious decision I made that night to become addicted to ice. It didn’t even occur to me. All I knew was when I smoked that drug, all my pain and hurt went away. I had the energy to do things again, it gave me confidence and purpose again. It gave me life, or so I thought.

For the next few years, I hid my addiction from my family and friends. I felt shame and embarrassment that I’d let it take over my life. It’s not something people usually openly discuss or talk about. I didn’t understand addiction back then and I judged myself, like so many people continue to do. My treating psychiatrist saw me through my darkest days.

After my marriage ended, I was a complete mess. My world came crashing down. I’d lost myself completely along with the remainder of my self-esteem and any confidence I had left.

It was time to get “better”, or so I thought, so I went through what seemed to be a never-ending rotating door of detoxes, rehab, and mental health facilities.

I made excuse after excuse as to why I left the facility early or why I would be back within weeks or sometimes hours of leaving the treatment centre. When I did come out ‘clean’ it felt scary. Strangely, going back to using seemed safe to me. And so I did, time and time again.

Then, my doctor told me about a new treatment plan that was going to be offered to ten Australians at Turning Point and that it would be documented by a film crew over the course of six months for a new SBS program, Addicted Australia. Deciding to participate in the documentary was one of the biggest, hardest and best decisions of my life.

Over the course of the treatment program, I had my ups and definitely had my downs. The solution to helping my addiction has been less about stopping the substance and more about learning to love myself again, and love the life I live.

If it wasn’t for the program, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to commence and complete the first year of a Diploma of Community Services. Studying for me has been so fulfilling and has given me a sense of purpose that I have always craved.

I now look forward to my future, which I haven’t done in more than five years. I’m finally ready to tell my story, without guilt, shame or stigma. I realise addiction is a mental health issue, and something I didn’t choose, want or deserve, just like the trauma I’ve suffered. But it is my life and my responsibility to overcome my challenges. And that is something I work on every day.

A special thank you to my mum for her unwavering and unconditional love and support. I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale if not for you. I love you, Mum.

Addicted Australia airs Tuesday 10 November, 8.30pm on SBS.

For crisis support: Lifeline 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au

For alcohol and drug support: 1800 250 015 │ counsellingonline.org.au

For gambling support: 1800 858 858 or gamblinghelponline.org.au