While politicians debate policy on drugs, this recovering addict saves lives
Warning: includes discussion of drug use, addiction, suicidal thoughts
“Jack”* was close to becoming a statistic himself when an addict in recovery quietly told him there was a different way to live.
Now 33 years clean, he delivers the same message to others.
Like most addicts, Jack did whatever he had to for his next hit, with crime and violence becoming a way of life.
“The harm I did to those around me! I was aggressive, angry, I had a really violent mother and I guess I just became like her,” he said.
Jack says it was his interpretation of his violent mother and alcoholic father led him to be quite a sensitive man.
“I just turned to drugs as a solution. But they weren’t, you know, they just cause more grief and problems,” he says.
Looking for a way out, but not knowing how, Jack happened to meet a man who had learnt to live without using drugs.
It took Jack 13 years to choose to stop using drugs. Picture by Danielle Bonica
He listened long enough for a seed to sow, but it took time. “Thirteen years I battled the pull of the drug, the shame of using …. knowing there was another way to live.”
He says he owes it all to other recovering addicts: “It’s just – what’s the word? – it’s the best thing ever.”
With support from other clean addicts, Jack faced the pain of his past and eventually became comfortable in his own drug-free skin.
“I had good morals, but drugs just sort of took that away because they were more important to me than my children, which was really quite sad,” he says.
Jack was introduced to the possibilities of a new way of life at 21, but it was another 13 years before he tried it. Picture supplied
With years of recovery now under his belt, Jack helps others get the monkey off their back.
“It’s coffee, going out, catching up, listening, listening… maybe it’s not about staying clean, but about trying to find a new way to live to, you know.”
One addict helping another
Anne met Jack when she was 25. At first she used drugs to take away her pain, but heroin took its toll when she increasingly struggled to get cash and overdoses were frequent.
The last time she used heroin she was very ill. “I remember praying to god to please end it, even if it meant ending my life.”
Coming to after a shot of Narcan, she eventually found her way to a halfway house where she met Jack.
He was there right at the very beginning, gave me his number, and for the last 25 years has been on the other end of the phone whenever I have needed him.
Anne has seen counsellors, but nothing quite hits the mark for her like the ear of an addict in recovery.
“In the early days, when I was learning to live again, drug free, I would call him a couple of times a day. I had no idea what to do. When you’re using, drugs are your world – chasing them, using them.”
Jack believes a therapeutic approach is essential to recovery.
Jack enjoys a peaceful home where he can play music and practice spirituality. Picture by Danielle Bonica.
“A lot of my life is taken up helping other addicts, coffee, phone calls, hours each week.”
Anne agrees this approach is most effective. “People don’t slowly commit suicide one needle at a time without a reason.
“It’s just at the time, the pain of feeling hurts more than the pain of using.”
An old world order
After the success of the first injecting room in Richmond, a controversial second space will be set up near Flinders St in Melbourne, known as a “hot spot” for overdoses.
As a society Jack thinks we need to go further to help deal with the problem.
“Legalise it. Wipe out the underworld of drug addiction. If the people had good drugs and places to use clean equipment, there will be no crime.”
Jack gives joyrides on his motorbikes. Picture by Danielle Bonica
He has seen so many people lose the battle against drugs. “There was one a month ago. She was 23. She got clean and then used and couldn’t stop using, she just overdosed.”
Always realistic, Jack knows decriminalisation is a pipe dream, as politicians, red tape, societal values all work to make this too radical an idea, so he chooses to focus on what he can do.
“All I can share is my story and my compassion. I answer the phone and I listen and, and sometimes, I try to give them my experience in that situation.”
* not his real name