Category: Barcaldine

A trip of infinite sadness and regret

I’ve been sorting through index cards, rogue pieces of paper and old photos because I’m moving. Moving out of the city, and returning to the trees and all of the secrets they’re waiting to tell me. They’ve been calling me for a while, and it’s time. I’ve become weary of city living over the last couple of years, and the more time I spend at the farm, in the bush or up in the mountains, the more I yearn to be in silence, amongst the trees and the stars, harvesting bush lemons, herbs and having a veggie garden with a couple of rescue chooks. Maybe even a rescue dog one day.

People ask me if I’ll miss living so close to the city. No. And yes. I won’t miss the sirens and incessant traffic, the dust, the cranes, or the crimes against architecture which seem to spring up while I am sleeping. I will miss the sunsets out to the west, watching the lights come alive in the Gotham City building, my many murders of crows, and the kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets and magpies that gaggle in the trees every afternoon. Perhaps they might like to follow me if I ask them? I suspect that there are going to be many murders of birds and other wildlife where I’m going.

There are people I’m going to miss, but I can visit them, and they can come by any time. It’s just that it’s time for me to move on, and when an almost inconceivable opportunity presented itself, I leapt. It was a quick decision, but most of all, it was an easy decision (which are the best kinds of decisions).

I’ve started packing, and that’s where I found a bundle of index cards and rusty paperclips from a couple of my trips out to Barcaldine – another place that calls me, and one I hope to see later in the year. Below is some writing from 2001 and 2002 – long before I’d found my writing voice (I’m still finding it) – and it’s about my time at Cumberland, the cattle property where my dear friend Meagan grew up. Meags died in May 1999, and I have mourned the shit out of her. You cannot imagine. Or maybe you can. Grief is one cruel mistress.

In 2001, I finally got out to her family’s cattle station to see where Meags had spent so much of her life; a place she had wanted me to visit when we were both well enough. But that wasn’t to be after Meags died in May 1999 from Cystic Fibrosis – the illness we were both born with. The last time I went out was in 2013 when I was addicted to opioids. A part of the reason why I decided to get clean was because I was alive, and Meags was not. I realised that I needed to recalibrate my compass, so that’s exactly what I did. I daresay the next trip will be very different.

An infinite trip of sadness and regret

Thursday 9th November, 2001

Stock and forty degree anarchy

Here I am at Cumberland, wrestling with hollow hope that the clouds, thick and full of promise, might crack open and give me a belated baptism. Blue funny faces remedy the forty-three degree fever for one quick minute, the coloured ice glossing my lips until I’m a pale shade of cyanosis. Swigging down coffee doesn’t sit well with the melting barbs of ice in my throat; my teeth frozen in a futile resolution to my thirst.

Frogs croak with my hot feet moving across the floorboards, so I walk outside and sing to them. I sing to them that we are missing the rain, too. Cumberland and surrounding properties are still on town water for now, but for how much longer we do not know. We do runs around the paddocks dropping off licks for the cattle, making sure they have enough water, the grass and wayward sticks whacking the ute. I wonder if the stock will be here when visit next. The cattle aren’t fat by any means, and look like the animal kingdom’s walking dead.

A palomino dropped dead yesterday afternoon from colic. The mare had been sick for days, splayed on her side to draw out the pain, her gut distended as though she was ready to foal. Just before Kerry went to get the shotgun, she got to her feet, hobbled over to the fence, and dropped to her death in the dirt.

The stock will not die from colic. Instead, they will starve and thirst until rib cages protrude through paper thin hides; craggy, matted hair shrouding more bones and bleeding skin.

I try to write and I sit under the weeping willow waiting for the words to come, but they do not. The arbour is green, and it grows grapes, although I don’t know how productive it is. It looks like a green and twig laden blanket, covering wire and wood, and it moves me with the breezes that roll through the garden.

A hot, bullying wind has risen, and the sky has swollen with charcoal coloured nebula – clumps of hope just out of reach from where we stand sentinel on the prickly grass. I’ve never felt rain on my skin out here, and doubt I ever will. At night, I dream of pellets of rain popping on my skin, and me – coming alive in the mud as the water volleys against the dry earth.

*

In the city, I’m in limbo. I feel shackled and ambushed. Out here, I am free. I eat cheese and tomato jaffles and icy poles, drink hot coffee and cold beer – all the while looking at coloured vignettes of Meagan, her eyes like chocolate discs swimming on her face – her blonde hair swathing her young neck, olive and soft.

I feel a sense of permanence here. Something like belonging. I don’t know why I come here. It could be to be close to Meagan – to sit at her grave and memorial garden in silence. It could be to air my regret at not seeing her the day before she died. It could be to tell her what’s been happening – we always loved hearing about the other was up to. What adventures we’d found, what adventures had found us.

Or it could be so I can remember her, and to read those words on her epitaph – ‘Rest, little one, rest.’

Wednesday 2nd October, 2002

I woke late in the night and had a skirmish with what looked like a bird eating spider above my bed. After I’d half-killed it, it showered me with its babies. I trundled off to the shower thinking that it never feels right killing a sentient being.

In the morning, Sue still had the bread out on the table and the kettle and been boiled. The Walker’s had an ironic thirst for coffee. Ironic, purely because they can drink several cups of the stuff in forty-seven degree heat. The office and the bedrooms are air conditioned, and Jay had said year after year that he’d have the whole house cooled. ‘Maybe next year,’ Sue said last night.

Today had been no different after looking at the weather station that had been Jay’s grandfathers – the arrow pointing at ‘dry’, with the temperature stuck on forty-one.

In the afternoon, we transplanted two trees. The first one looked like it had more guts to it – fatter trunk, leaves more evenly splayed with plump branches, and not on too much of a lean. The other was brittle and grey like a ghost gum, its threadbare leaves devoid of a middle vein running through the ashen foliage. It didn’t have much spirit about it.

And so, today was the tale of the two trees. Kerry dug them out from the old station hand’s quarters where the grand bull ring once stood, the excavator bouncing around like a feather on the wind. His kids visiting from Warwick looked on as their Dad tried to uproot the trees as gently as one can with an excavator, and one by one they sprung up and out of the earth, averse to being torn away from their tree family. Kerry drove them back to the homestead, and gently set them down into where he had scooped out the dirt – Katrina pointing her freckled hand at where they needed to be. She had left a hose in each to saturate the soil, and when both were in, we watered them for another half an hour, and soon enough the weakling was on a lean.

Jay poured a rum for himself and a wine for Sue. Katrina and I had a beer each, our eyes mulling over the flat plains as the sun dropped behind the spine of the mountains far away.

Jay, a man of few words, looked over at the trees and said something about ‘waiting and seeing’. This day, like every other day, had carried with it thoughts of his daughter who didn’t survive, then he looked to the girl who did, with a lopsided grin. Me, a bottle of beer in my hand, lost in the stars of an inky sky that will always lead us home.

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My new normal

I’m just about jumping out of my skin. I had my first good night’s sleep in eleven days, so I’m feeling rested. I’ve been waking up around 4-5am, which is not the norm for me. I’ve never been a morning person, though when I first moved into my beloved flat I became one of those morning people. I’d brew a coffee, take it out onto my balcony and look out on the morning. I’d managed to draw a line between happiness and appreciation – a thickly painted line, slapped on with a wide, bristly brush and broad, unsteady strokes. I’d fill my lungs with air, celebrating the beauty and freedom of breath.

Every Saturday, I’d walk to the bakery where I’d treat myself to one or three of these great big, hunking German doughnuts called Berliners. I’d have a chat to the bakery dude and toddle off home to warm my doughnut (not a euphemism), then I’d sit down with the weekend papers and a cuppa. I’ll admit it – I’m a girl who respects ritual.

For the two years or so I was high, I slept and became a shadow of myself. I sliced myself thin as I burrowed my way further down the rabbit hole. I wasn’t achieving anything because being high precludes you from being productive in any way, shape or form. They were wasted years, and years I didn’t have the right to waste. I’ve been on borrowed time since I had my transplant. I know that. But now that I’m off the gear, I’ve been wondering if this is what my life will be like now. Is this what my life would have been like had I not been addicted to drugs? Early mornings full of joy instead of the dread of where my next hit was coming from, believing that the drugs were somehow helping me? The drugs did help for a time when I was using them for legitimate pain, but before I knew it they owned me and it was like taking out a loan I could never repay.

My pleasure senses were dulled to the point where I just wanted to take my next pill, and I was suffering – truly suffering – from anhedonia, which is when your pleasure receptors basically switch off. My brain wanted what my brain wanted, and that was more of the same. There was littlejoy, no moments of natural euphoria and I was constantly exhausted. I couldn’t write. I had trouble reading.

When I was rationing tablets in Barcaldine in 2013 and getting restless limbs/akathisia, I knew I needed help. I started researching what drugs do to your brain. After all, I was already well aware what they had done to my spirit. I looked at Narcotics Anonymous, and worked out it wasn’t for me. I found my addiction therapy doctor, started opiate antagonist therapy, and the rest is history.

I’ve mentioned this before, but when I did my TEDx talk last year, I was unable to memorise my twenty minute speech. For someone with a near photographic memory, that was quite distressing. My brain was recovering from drug abuse, and I still don’t know how much they have impacted my brain function. I had some pretty hairy moments when I’d taken too much oxycodone and my respiratory system became depressed. I’d have heart palpitations, and one day I had to give myself CPR for about twenty minutes after I had overdosed. I was in acute tachycardia and I didn’t know if my heart had been damaged. It still shocks me that I’m not an overdose statistic.

For me, having a terminal illness gave me an acute absence of fear. I grew up fearless, loud and fierce, and I took more risks because a terminal illness is like having permission slip to engage in risk taking behaviours. It’s well documented that people with a life-limiting illness take more risks than people who don’t have a closer ‘use by date’. There’s a sub-culture of the fearless; tattoos, collecting exotic pets, dangerous friends and dangerous habits. I know a lot of people with illness who favour driving fast cars and adrenalin sports. But you also seek your own truth and authenticity, which is far more admirable. It’s that whole, ‘do no harm but take no shit’ dictum.

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Image courtesy of Laura Lwin

I’ve been asking and answering a lot of questions about myself of late – a little introspection, if you will. Ruminating over what my life would or could have been like had my addiction not consumed me. But it did, and I’ve never been one for having regrets. For me, they’re lessons. Regrets stifle your present and paralyse your future.

And another lesson – age is a privilege. I turn 39 tomorrow. Every extra year has been such a gift, and I’m revelling in moving on with life armed with respect, gratitude, boundaries and a sense of responsibility to NOT FUCK THIS UP. The good news is that I can’t see that happening because I’m in the midst of a passionate and fervid affair with my life, my friends and family, my writing and my work. Speaking of friends, on Sunday night, I went out with three of my nearest and dearest – one friend I went to both primary and high school with. It was pretty bloody special.

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Leg show.

Tomorrow I’m driving down to my friend’s farm in northern New South Wales where we will celebrate my birthday and turn the sod for the new year. The silence, being in nature, that grasp of acuity, the cattle, and the trees embroidered with birdlife seem to be a panacea for city life. And just so you know, I’m not into resolutions – I’m into revolutions. At the end of the day, we are the product of our choices.

Have a Happy New Year, one and all. Big, BIG love. Oh, and here’s a little poem I wrote back in 2004 on the day I left Canada to travel to see my friend artist George Bleich in Carmel-By-The-Sea. Here we are back in 2004 and here is my tree, The Lone Cypress. Now that’s another story …

 

Firs only sleep

when branches draped in white

fall with  frigid arms, then pitch upward like an angry child

when the sun passes through them like a mood;

never knowing to swing a bitter heat to pat down the ground below

 

Firs only sleep

when concrete skies close over like a skullcap.

The sky yields to a day hue,

leading to kingfisher blue skies

peppered with stars and Luna

until the spring, when they are free.

My summer of love

Earlier in the week, someone asked me what I’ve been up to. ‘Reading, writing, stuff …’ But mainly reading and writing, hanging out with my sister and my nephews, working, planning, walking and dreaming. It’s true – I’m an abject failure of a social butterfly, although I did actually go OUT Friday night to the opening of Brisbane’s The Soul Pantry – a fabulous florist in Newmarket you should visit if you live in Brisbane. I mean: TERRARIUMS. I am obsessed. Such a granny. 

It’s my favourite time of year. Yes, I love Christmas and will be trimming my tree (and the rest) this weekend, but it’s summer that truly has my heart. I had a passionate relationship with summer in my youth – days of water-skiing, inner tubing and swimming at my home on the Brisbane river; meditating on the pontoon at water level, and slathering coconut oil on my body to bake myself like a ham.

But then I had my transplant which meant no sun. Or, I could have sun, but with a family history of melanoma, my immunosuppression and my wish for eternal youth, I literally took shelter and have been alabaster ever since. It took about fourteen years for me to re-embrace summer and over the last couple of years, I’ve rebooted my brain and learned to adore what I call my ‘Summers of Love’ once again.

This calls for the following:

  • A new swimsuit and rashie √
  • Bebel and João Gilberto on repeat √ (and Enya – don’t judge me. Did you know she has a new album?) √
  • The radio tuned to ABC classic FM  √
  • Naked cooking, naked dancing, naked writing. Okay – just entire days spent totally naked √
  • Admiring the lights of the city – sometimes with clothes on – hoping no one has binoculars trained in my direction √
  • Writing on my balcony, watching and listening to the birds flying just out of my reach while the sun sinks behind the mountains √
  • Scratching words together for my novel √
  • Watching ‘Love Actually’ & ‘Eat Pray Love’ (and crying a lot) √
  • Late afternoon wandering by the river √
  • Stealing the swing from unsuspecting children at the park √
  • Coming to the realisation that a whole year has passed and I HAVEN’T KILLED A SINGLE PLANT √
  • Reading Les Murray’s latest collection √
  • Thoughts about new balcony furniture (Keren Brown, I am looking at you) √
  • What-the-fuck-am-I-going-to-cook-for-dinner mania √
  • Clandestinely skinny dipping in the pewl come twilight  √
  • Mangoes, mangoes, mangoes √
  • Sunscreen. All day, every day √
  • Make friends with salad. Yeah, not convinced unless it’s covered in five types of cheese.

And so that is my glamorous life. I got all of the stuff I love and adapted it to my post-transplant, no sun life. November has been a pretty sedate month, and December is looking distinctly unremarkable. But I like unremarkable and ordinary and as much as I’d love to be in Barcy now, that trip will have to wait until another time. 

My novel (set in the outback in the early 70s) is coming along (1200 words today – take that, Hemingway), an epic and covert poetry project is beginning to take shape and I’m working on a short story. I never write short stories, but the last one received a great review in the Sydney Morning Herald, so this in itself is miraculous.

I turn 39 on New Years Eve, and as with every birthday, I have no idea what I’m doing. Big changes can happen between now and then, but I seem to always escape to the country for my birthday. Last year, I spent a very sedate birthday at my folks beach house at Mooloolaba, and the two years before that, I stayed at my friend Nic’s farm in the hinterland of Byron Bay where we did we got our witch on and burned shit. Going by the year 2014 turned out to be, I can say that burning shit GETS SHIT DONE. I highly recommend it #manifestinglikeamofo

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I’ve never spent a NYE at my place in the city and don’t know if I ever will. I feel in limbo with its frenetic pace – almost as though I’m shackled – whereas out ‘there’, whether it be Barcy or the farm or the beach, I am unencumbered and free. 

Waking up in the quiet of dawn and going for a surf on the first morning of a new year is such a gift. There’s nothing that quite matches its intensity or sense of calm. Bobbing in the ocean for while, eating a solid brekkie, sinking into a good book, doing some writing of my own and going for a wander is my ideal. Simple, yet ideal.

But first I have get through Christmas, which isn’t to say that I ‘endure’ the festive season. Quite the opposite, in fact. I love getting my yule on and buying gifts for my nearest and dearest. I’m in full blown love with my new baking fruitcake tradition to the point where I’ve now had my fruit mix soaking in rum for ten days. When the weather cools down, I’ll bake. 

As I type, it is 6.27pm. Cicadas embroider the air which will forever take me back to the vipassana I did in 2013. There’s the odd siren, barking dog and the bristle of leaves in the evening wind.

Over the next couple of weeks, my opiate antagonist therapy will whittle down to zero, so I’ve been thinking of how I can celebrate this milestone. I don’t drink, so I’ll most likely keep things unremarkable and ordinary, write down some words and walk along the river. I’ll open my arms up to the world like the protagonist in my novel did today and feel the salt building on my skin. Salt is something I’m quite fascinated by, and not just because it grows in little mounds on my skin in summer that I can season my fish and chips with.

While I have a humanities brain, I find the  chemical breakdown of salt fascinating and  beautiful. On their own, sodium and chloride are highly toxic. But when they come together, they create something really special. Salt is stable, non-reactive and compatible with life. Salt gets a lot of bad press, but on a hot day like today, I’ve gobbled down no less than fifteen salt tablets because I lose excessive amounts through my skin as a CF’er. Where you might have to cut salt out of your diet, I can dump it on my food in excessive quantities. Without it I become hyponatremic which can be fatal, but that’s enough histrionics for today.

Being able to be completely free of Suboxone is going to be absolute freedom. I’ve not had one craving for anything drug related since I started on the therapy in 2013, and that alone lends me a steady strength. Back when I first started lining up at the chemist at the junkie counter, I knew I had my addiction cornered. There wasn’t a part of me that didn’t want to be free from the slavery that is addiction and I knew that I would get here. How did I know? Because once I make my mind up about something, I get it done. Whether that’s being stubborn or just being really fucking determined, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a potent mix of both. Knowing I had this beat from day one was essential for my recovery, and the day I take my last dose may be unremarkable and ordinary, but as I’ve always maintained, there is great beauty in the ordinary. Even when you can’t see it, it is everywhere. If you don’t go in search of magic, love or anything else you want in life, you will never find it. The Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi is deeply rooted in revering nature, the everyday and its imperfections. It’s a state of heightened consciousness where there is beauty hidden in how you experience the world in its state of constant transience. The Buddhists were really onto something with their reverence for impermanence, so I urge you to embrace your wabi-sabi. If that’s not enough, then maybe some Roald Dahl will do the trick:

‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’

 

Trying to breathe when you are drowning

Ever had a newborn baby put into your arms and breathed them in? Like really breathed them in as though it were your last breath? I’ve been thinking of experiences that trump being high, and this is the most powerful that comes to mind. I have four nephews and was lucky enough to be present (and I mean really fucking present) for two of their births. Aside from when I was dying, I’ve never experienced life in such an intense and all-consuming way that would change me, and even alter the course of what I thought I knew.

I remember a life-altering experience with my first nephew when he was a week young. I was laying down on my sisters couch with his little furled up body on my chest. It was just us and I could feel his tiny heart beating the most beautiful tune I’d ever heard. For about an hour our hearts melded together. That seemingly golden hour – as well as feeding him (with a bottle of course), and sharing a bath with him as he discovered his feet could magically splash water from floor to ceiling, replete with squeals of delight – was as close as I would ever get to feeling like a mother.

It was all kinds of wonderful and gave me the slightest glimpse into the all-encompassing blazing, bonding love and emotion a mother must feel for her child. That fierce sense of protection so they are safe from everything and everyone is something I’ve felt time and time again over the years with these boys, and I maintain that I’m lucky to be alive to be here to see their safe arrival and help shepherd their passage through life. That baby is now thirteen – the other three not far behind – and we share an unbreakable bond. Better than any drug, if you ask me.

After publishing my little essay on addiction, I’ve heard from people the world over who have fought and slayed their own demons. I have also been written by people who are still struggling and who asked for advice. While I’m not a doctor, I’ve found the most important thing is to be supported, whether that’s by your family, friends or a health professional. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been supported by the afore mentioned triumvirate, but now it seems I’ve entered strangers into the mix. Over the last few days I’ve laughed and cried along with every emotion in between, as people have regaled me with their stories – some of desperation and others marked with a stark and ironic hilarity that only a fellow addict can appreciate (think intense constipation and exploding bowels, a la Trainspotting).

A close friend of mine called me in tears saying that she wished she could have helped me; that she had suspected I was on drugs, but she never wanted to say anything in case she was wrong, and that she felt guilty because she could have helped. The thing is – and I told my friend this – no one could help me until I wanted to help myself. 

You need to be ready, and in my case, I wasn’t ready until I’d reached my lowest ebb. I reason that sometimes a flash flood is better than a steady storm. Floods get deep into the pain where you didn’t think it could even exist, and flooded rivers are often a ruse. Smooth and placid on the surface, but venture below the waterline and it’s that surge taking everything with it that will kill you. Trying to get your head above water once you’re under is close to impossible. Your best chance of survival is if a lifeline is thrown your way, but that so rarely happens. Sometimes if your body lands the right way up, you can take a breath – and another and another and another – then you can look around and swim towards the shore. My advice is to swim as hard as you can and don’t stop until you’ve reached dry land.

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 46 36.

I am an addict

I posted a rant on my chasing away salt water page earlier today, much of which I’ve included in this piece. It involves the Cystic Fibrosis community – my community, if you will – and my burning question was this: when will people start taking responsibility for their lives? Why are there GoFundMe pages being created to ask for money so that CF’ers can reap the rewards for doing nothing? You are NOT a special fucking snowflake as the late, great Stella Young would say. You can listen to her fuck off amazing TEDx talk here. Her inspiration porn and snowflake theory applies to the entire illness and disability community. No one is exempt #sorrynotsorry.

I see CF’ers who are diabetic with failing kidneys poisoning their bodies by drinking Coke and eating crap for breakfast, lunch and dinner; pumping themselves full of insulin because they’re ‘addicted to sugar’. Trust me – there are worse things to be addicted to and this is where I share my ultimate shame story for the very first time.

MY NAME IS CARLY-JAY AND I AM AN ADDICT.

As some of you may know, I’ve been addicted to opiates over the years due to the pitfalls of CF, transplant and cancer – morphine, pethidine, oxycontin and more. I mentioned my on/off struggle with being addicted to drugs in my TEDx talk, but when I gave that talk, I had been keeping a far deeper secret I’ve not had the courage to write about until now because of the deep shame that feels like burning kindling in my marrow. Seriously – that’s how it feels. 

In fact, the reason I had to use a lectern during my TEDx talk was because my brain hadn’t recovered from the damage done from the previous two years of drug (ab)use and as such, I felt like an abject failure. I could not learn my eighteen minute speech in the three weeks I had been allotted, and for me this was mortifying. But once I walked out on that stage, I was fine; nerves a distant memory. I owe everlasting gratitude to the very empathetic Lisa Watts from TEDx Brisbane after crying my way through a conversation as to why my brain wouldn’t suck my speech up like the sponge it had once been.

I am well aware that I have paid my donor and her family the ultimate disrespect by getting addicted to drugs. And not just any drugs – schedule 8 controlled drugs as they’re called in Australia. I thought that because I was on prescription drugs and I wasn’t drug seeking on the streets that I was safe; that I wasn’t a drug addict. Except I was.

In fact, I remember my first hit of Omnopon in 1994 after I’d had surgery for endometriosis. It just so happens that the first love of my life was the one who injected me (in a hospital setting, of course), and that’s when the first flush of addiction bloomed. I unknowingly had sent myself to sea in a sinking ship. Marcello said I’d feel a little giddy, but the accompanying rush of ecstasy that washed over me as I sunk into my bed, yet rising into the air at the same time in one beautiful, sweeping motion is something I’ve never forgotten. In 1996, I became addicted to IV pethidine after complications with surgery, needing more and more every day until my doctors brought down my dose enough for me to get home. Funnily enough, I didn’t miss it and got on with life.

It was following my transplant when the seeds of addiction really came alive. My bones were honeycombed from osteoporosis and as such would not heal. My sternum refused to knit back together, and every time I rolled over in bed my chest bones would concertina and I would hear and feel them pop. Up until I had my cancer surgery in 2007, I had never experienced such pain as when my epidural was removed on day five post-transplant. It was as though someone had poured fuel all over my chest and set it alight. When I was discharged, I’d drink my morphine straight out of the bottle like an alcoholic would with whiskey.

After six months, my transplant doctor Scott Bell and my surgeon, Robert Tam sat me down and told me I was addicted to morphine. The first thing I felt was relief, and my first thought was, ‘no shit, Sherlock’. After agreeing to their suggested two week inpatient detox, I went home, poured my morphine down the sink and went cold turkey. I pissed the bed (and the rest), vomited, sweated like a beast in Hades, and felt like I’d been thrown from my skin. When you’re coming down, you get to a point where you feel like you’re climbing out of your own skin and so you actually try. And then, when you’re back in the world of the living, you emerge like a calf being born. Replete with an inevitably messy start, you find your feet, feeling fragile and a little lost. But as the days go on, you get stronger and a little more fearless. On day four, I began to feel human, and for now at least, the ride was over. I had my life back.

My addiction was most out of control when I wasn’t living with my parents. When you have nobody to be accountable to, you can just shoot up and flake out. The second you see that flash of blood in the syringe, you know you’re about to enter heaven, yet you go nowhere. It is like taking the deepest of breaths. That flash of red, so ironically the same colour as the flower it comes from. You feel totally dissociated and disconnected from everything and everyone, but when you’re high you’re hyper-sensitive to other people’s emotions. You laugh and you cry with people and then suddenly, the high has gone and you’re not sure where to go or what to do apart from wanting another hit, although for a few years I went without pain killers altogether. Why? Because I can.

But then 2003 came reeling into me, and sometimes restless rivers run deep. By 2004 I was back in the throes of addiction and I did ridiculous things like inject pethidine and morphine directly into my port-a-cath. That shit was going straight to my heart. Colour me surprised, but I’m lucky that I didn’t stop breathing. Because I’d built up such a tolerance to these kinds of drugs over the years, I reason that that is the only way I’ve survived such reckless behaviour. I have punished myself enough now knowing that I risked my life every day.

2004 came and went and I stayed clean until I was diagnosed with my pre-cancer on my vulva. Yes, my vulva. In order to get the pre-cancer under control, I had to use a drug called Efudix – a topical chemotherapy ointment which is supposed to burn the cancer away. I was on a potent mix of narcotics, but for good reason. My gynaecological oncologist (broken cunt doctor) couldn’t quite believe the doses I could tolerate, but when you have strips of skin hanging off and peeling away from your vulva, you need ALL THE DRUGS.

When Efudix was off the menu as a treatment, I underwent a radical vulvectomy which very nearly killed me. For pain relief, I had an epidural and was on ketamine and morphine, yet the pain team still could not get my pain under control. As I speak about in my TEDx talk, my Dad arrived at the hospital one morning to find me drooling like a vegetable and essentially non-responsive. Not long after I began have tonic clonic (grand mal) seizures and was rushed to ICU. If it were not for my father calling my lung transplant consultant Peter Hopkins, I’d be dead.

Pete told the doctors to rip me off all of the pain medication, which they did. As a result, I went into acute narcotic withdrawal where my body would thrash around the bed – and despite being in a coma – my system was fighting that sudden absence of opiates. To cut a long story short, I survived, had to learn to walk, talk, feed myself and had to deal with a poo bag. I was drug free and wasn’t even taking paracetamol, despite having a few ‘oxies’ left over from before my surgery which I made quick work of in 2008 when I was in the relationship from hell. The ex in question also happened to have a penchant for drugs and ran me dry, which was fine. I didn’t want to be on anything and was happily clean.

In 2013, I’d been back on narcotics for maybe two years. I was going nowhere fast and like any addict, I was always needing more. I would take drugs when I was happy, I would take them when I was sad and I would take them when I was indifferent. I doctor shopped, lied, and had no one else to blame except myself.

There were times when I was using where I had taken far too much because I hadn’t hit that high fast enough. My breathing would become laboured and just to get some perspective, after my cancer surgery I recall having such massive quantities of ketamine, morphine and other drugs that I would often get down to four to six breaths a minute. I remember waking up with a group of doctors and nurses surrounding my bed saying that I’d had ‘a little trouble with my breathing’. They had in fact pulled me back from the brink with a drug called Narcan which is what you see paramedics using on television with people who have needles stuck in their arms (or in Pulp Fiction. That big breath that Uma takes once she’s stabbed through the chest? Bullshit. Sorry to ruin the illusion).

In 2013, I was shaking the hand of death far too often, yet I still persevered with taking as many drugs as I could. I was in Barcaldine when I realised I was in trouble. I was in the middle of nowhere and only had a minute supply of drugs left for the duration of my stay, so I did what any self-serving addict would do and began rationing them out in the hope that my restless legs, vomiting and night sweats would settle down long enough for me to get back to Brisbane to replenish my supply . One of my closest friends and her husband spent some time at my friend’s cattle station with me and while I knew that Nic knew, I said nothing because I wasn’t ready to get clean and as is typical, I refused to ask for help. Nic said later she knew I was in the throes of addiction, but there was nothing she could do until I was ready. I had to be ready, but I needed help like it was yesterday.

A few weeks after I returned to Brisbane, I was having a very casual conversation with my Mum and for some reason I broke down. She asked what was wrong and while she was in the spices section of Coles, I told her that I was addicted again. She lovingly said that she would get me help and that we would get through it. Why we? Because my family and I are a formidable team – my Mum, my Dad, and my sister always offer me a soft place to land.

This confessional does not make me brave. I am not inspiring. I am not that snowflake that so many people wish to be or use as as excuse to be an asshole. I am human and humans are not infallible. I had to earn back the trust and respect of my family which is what hurt the most. My Dad could not believe that I had gambled so thoughtlessly with my life. He said he was disappointed – possibly the most most biting thing anyone has ever said to me. He wasn’t upset, he was disappointed. I cried, said I was sorry, but that wasn’t enough. I am still so, so sorry and am in tears as I write this. You should never have to earn back the trust of your family, but that was something I was so resolute about doing. My sister was incredibly supportive as were the literal handful of friends I told. They let me get on with my recovery, but were there to back me and I can’t thank them enough.

I’ve been clean for two years and while I’ve always maintained I’ve been compliant with my treatment (taking medication, regular check ups, eating well, exercise) I did the unthinkable – I gambled with my life that I’ve nearly lost so many times through no fault of my own, yet here I was throwing it away with every pill I swallowed and every (clean, single use) needle I was shoving into my skin. I only ever took drugs when I was alone.

In regards to the illness and disability community, I see people who are non-compliant with treatment and medication after transplant and other life preserving procedures. Over the years, I’ve seen transplant recipients start smoking again after their lives have been saved and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent to keep them alive. Just like my drug addiction, how disrespectful is that to your donor, their family and your medical team? The thing is, I got help because I asked for it. I went to an addiction specialist who put me on opiate antagonist treatment and I’m happy to say that I’m going to be off it for good before Christmas. I saw a great therapist, but after about three sessions my psychologist said I was too well adjusted to keep seeing him. We both believed that I was in a safe space and would not use again. And I haven’t. The only narcotics I’ve had have been when I’ve needed a central line placed in my jugular for IV antibiotics (they can sting and bruise a little like a motherfucker).

So what brought on this confession? This morning as I wrote about Cystic Fibrosis and suffering in general not being a competition, and about the ‘hierarchy of illness’ that has been created over the years, I sensed that I needed to own my shit because I was telling other people to do just that. You have a choice. It’s called being pro-active instead of being a victim. Whether you’ve had a hard life or not, there are many who have had it far tougher than you, but again – it’s not a competition of who is sicker than who, who is suffering more, or who is the most hard done by. If you can get out of your own head and ego, you’ll see that we are surrounded by suffering and we (you) have it relatively easy when it comes to illness. We live in a first world country, have world class medical services and welfare. For fuck’s sake, our transplants are FREE. In the United States, you have to basically crowd fund and hope for the best if your health takes a turn for the worse.

Having an illness or a disability doesn’t entitle you to have a Facebook or GoFundMe page where you’re essentially begging for money, ‘stuff’ and ‘experiences’ like hot laps and swimming with dolphins being given to you for just existing (and shame on you for going to Seaworld. Animals in captivity is cruel. Go and watch Blackfish).

So you – yeah you. Do you actually believe that the world owes you? Because it doesn’t. Life owes you nothing. But you owe life EVERYTHING, so stop being a self-entitled twat. Get a job, get your shit together, get an education or better your skills, get help if you need it like I did (all you have to do is ask), stop the victim blaming, lose the ego and get real. Be accountable and set a good example.

Drugs are a scourge and I know that I will never use again. But how can I be certain? The proof is in the pudding. I’ve achieved so much since being clean. I’ve found my purpose and I am bloody good at what I do. I’ve worked for the first time in years, spoken at TEDx and other events, my writing has been published widely, I’ve been churning out my memoir, poetry and I’m close to having a first draft of a novel I am thrilled with. I’ve made new and lasting friendships with my involvement in palliative care, my death midwifery and the death cafes I host, I started a Masters degree in Spiritual Care and have done my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education so I could become a secular hospital chaplain. Maybe we’re all wounded healers to some degree.

So many opportunities have presented themselves and I’ve been in the right head space to take full advantage of that. Most importantly, I’ve had no cravings for drugs over the last two years because life is enough. I am enough. To be able to write and say that to people is something I’m proud of. Again, it is not so much that I am brave or inspiring. I’m just a human who wants to be a good person – to love and be there for my family and friends, to write like a motherfucker, to care for the sick and dying and to love and be loved. Life really can be that beautifully simple.


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Primitive

Gun empty, shot with intent,

I hoof hit/wheel roll/foot fall

dropping girasol like unfolding lies

then wait with convivial pause.

In the morning, a thump over the cattle grate;

the scene of an arrival; a foal on the run, mourning mothers milk.

 

In the night-time

we’re running moonshine over state lines,

black boot mafia

crossing chain link fences ’til

we’re making diamonds outta prayers.

Mouth raging pink with sainfoin,

dog soldiers lean on mud-brown huts – sharply muscled,

diesel in their veins and peach faced fuzz.

With the fleeting glare of a fox, I cut my teeth on the mountains

of my girlhood, for some pernicious reward that never came,

but through ravens call, hearken this …

ancestral voices dampen the well,

carrying my body boat in their fallacious swell.

Your tears collect in the hollow of my spine

so I stay stilled ’til they are dried.

 

A film of your despair visible only by the rush of midnight

and only one minute at that.

Thrown from your skin,

bones akimbo to the wind.

Death an internship,

slicing away at dreams and blanketed forces of thought.

A stretch of joy and a garrotte of light;

action put to the sword after a night of liberty.

Beauty is perilous, from cradle to casket (you should know this by now)

Unfold your eyes to the timbre of salute.

Peel open your mouth to speak a salacious moot of sin;

unknotting your limbs from unfeeling,

digging your fingers into the loam,

‘cos your daddy said, ‘there’s honey in that soil, milk in them stones.’

 

Seeking out the ground with eyes I put to sleep so many years ago,

I kneel and pat away at moistening roly-poly roots –

the pads of my fingers dewy and yielding

stamped with flecks of broken china

from seventeen nights of rain.

In the morning, we roll through doorjambs.

You walk behind me; I am your windbreaker.

How many accidents until we collide?

For there is a necklace of deep regret that won’t come loose –

la douleur exquise –

there is nothing ordinary about this.

Eating from the hands of the land,

summer steals in, tearing winter away.

The blood-red of birth, the placenta of earth

that cannot be washed away.

Monday blues

After not feeling too well throughout the week, I had a magical day on Friday. It was my bestie Bec’s birthday, where her husband whipped up some amazing coffee and birthday morning tea treats for us very lucky ladies. There were happy children, friends who I hadn’t seen in a long time (I even met one of their children for the first time) and everyone was just really happy to be there. People are generally happier when they’re surrounded by Bec 🙂 I’m always happier when I’m around Bec.

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I stayed until the afternoon, then went to meet my Mum for a post-outback emergency pedicure. I’m always happier when I’m with my Mum, too. We make each other laugh and I missed her when I was away. I was also slated to George-sit Friday night, because his owner had a funeral and subsequent wake to attend of a very close friend.

IMG_2589Puggerpillar on the rise ^^

Since I’ve been back, things have been a little off-kilter. I’ve had a couple of days where I’ve battled mountains of pain. I returned to Brisbane happy, calm and relatively stress-free (even though I didn’t want to leave), but since my return, I’ve had some shocking and devastating news from a friend and by six o’clock Friday night, I was in the grasp of one of the nastiest migraines I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. A migraine which was made that much worse when I ended up with a stomach bug chaser …

In 2004, I had a surgery to stop me from aspirating (vomiting) into my lungs. Had I not had the surgery, I’d be dead from O.B. It was an amazing pick up from the Lung Transplant team. Also, It was a reasonably painful procedure (the surgeon said it would be painless. Next time I’ll ask them if they’ve had it done) called a Nissen fundoplication. Trust me – there’s nothing fun about it, especially when you need it done multiple times as a mate of mine has done, because the surgeons just can’t seem to get it right. Luckily for me, all I ended up with was a mild case of pneumonia, but the surgery to ‘switch off my reflux reflex’ (that’s how I explain it to non-medical people) worked well. And by well, I mean super well. As in ‘I CANNOT EVEN BRING UP ONE MIL OF SPEW’ well. I haven’t been able to throw up since, and while it’s possibly saved me a lot of money in cab clean-up fares over the years, when you’re desperately ill from either food poisoning (last year), or a stomach bug (last Friday night), all you want to do is SPEW. And spew I did. Well, a little. I’ll spare you the photo (yep, I photographed it to show my doctor), even though I’m damn proud of how much I managed to bring up. But here was the crux – because I was heaving so violently, the pain in my head just wouldn’t shift. I took all the pain killers I possibly could and was wiped out for two days from exhaustion. I seriously thought I was going to vomit my brains out. Or at least my eyes. By Saturday morning I was resembling George the Pug, who thankfully was taken from my care before I completely sissied out.

Yesterday, my entire trunk was aching from all the heaving I’d done Friday night/Saturday morning. I’m still sore today. I look … disgusting. I couldn’t move my body yesterday – or cough or laugh or sneeze – because of the resultant post-spew pain. My head is an oil slick and my skin looks sallow. Looking back, I really should have gone to hospital to get rehydrated on Saturday, but I like to handle these things of my own accord and in a controlled environment. If anything, I should have gone to hospital for more pain relief, but I’m fairly certain I would have felt worse, because, yep … that’s right … controlled environment etc.

I spent the day yesterday ‘liking’ LOVING all of my sisters photos of Paris on insta-spam and trying to absolve myself of not having showered for two days. Today I made it out of my place downstairs for a coffee, and it was glorious. Old jeans, a singlet with no bra, Birkenstocks and grease-ball hair where I was greeted by hugs and more coffee. I should go and have my left hand x-rayed, because it probably really is broken if it’s still ridiculously sore after two weeks post-fall.

I’ve been gentle on myself today, keeping in mind that it can always be worse, just like it is for my friend who shared their shocking story with me over the weekend (when I wasn’t wrapped around the toilet bowl), beseeching my return to the city and asking, why did I have to come back?’ Oh, that’s right – I DIDN’T. Every time I come back to the city, I feel a little more lost. It feels like a solid country drought since I’ve been away, and all I want to do is go back – which I am, but not soon enough. Things and people are uncomplicated where I go, though there are often harsh reminders when you’re working the land for a living.

Is it so wrong I just want to see some cows in mustering context again? I mean, really – just look at them. They’re smart and adorable. So un-humanlike. Better than a bowl of hard-won spew, even.

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