Category: memoir

Endings, beginnings …

A few months ago, I was driving to see a client, and as I always do when I’m on the Inner City Bypass, I quickly looked to my left where the Royal Children’s Hospital is. Or I should say, was. When I’d finished my shift, I drove back to the Royal, parked my car and got as close as I could to the site. I cried big, ugly tears, and had to take some deep breaths to ground myself. I took some photos and spoke to one of the traffic guys about my time in there.

Going back was not about burying my suffering. It was about bearing witness to the destruction of what had been my second home. That might sound hyperbolic, but it’s where I did half my growing up. It’s hard for people to grasp that I spent nearly half my life in hospital before I had my transplant. It’s about being there, grounding myself in the suffering that is still with me – the suffering that will always be a part of me, and when it comes to that suffering I’m not broken or stronger for it. I just am.

I don’t live in the past. I AM my past. It’s like that saying, ‘you don’t have a soul. You have a body. You are a soul.’ 

Just when you think you’ve released all the guilt, there’s a dark corner of me that feels I need to be there to pay penance for having survived when most of my friends did not. Sound stupid? Try living it.

This place is sacred ground for me and so many others. There were so many first and final moments on that land. I fell in love for the first time there and I never believed the time would come when such a place was torn apart piece by piece. The state government made that decision years ago when Anna Bligh decided to entertain her vanity project of a children’s hospital in South Brisbane because Brisbane had a perfectly good hospital and infrastructure at Herston because: politics. I can see the new children’s hospital from the place I’ve left (it’s revolting, just in case you were wondering), and I remember the uproar in the medical fraternity when the idea was initially tabled, both with doctors and patients.

Back in the 90s, I was in hospital for much of the construction of the ‘new’ hospital (the one that’s been demolished), and I also happened to be an inpatient when the Deen Brothers demolished the old hospital. If you live in Brisbane, you’ll know that the Deen Brothers were the go to guys who knocked down iconic landmarks such as Cloudland and the Bellevue Hotel under our despotic Joh Bjeilke-Peterson dictatorship. Under Joh, they demolished much of Brisbane’s beautiful heritage buildings from the 1970s and beyond, often under the cloak of darkness and surprise.

And so the Deen Brothers were given the job to demo the old red brick hospital buildings in 1993, and I was a fierce sixteen year old who took shit from no one so it was nothing for me to jimmy open a window so I could yell at the Deen Brothers ‘you heretic c*nts!’. I’d shout until I was literally blue, my face covered in the dust of my past, present and future. I’d do this as many times as I could during the day when I wasn’t studying or having treatment. I would rage and cry, and punch the glass separating me from so many years of pain and suffering. I would wait until they met my eye (because they would) and I’d rage and cry, and give them the finger. They must have thought I was a mad little girl, but they  were just doing a job. Maybe I was doing mine, and the job of so many souls who had gone before me in those buildings.

The one image that brought me to my knees was when the kitchen being ripped out – the timber splitting like kindling, and the terrazzo floors being smashed. I wanted to throw myself on the ruins of that building and die with it. I was sixteen and I was in a constant state of grief. Heavy, sodden grief.

I’ve often said that I don’t live with regrets, and that I live with lessons instead. But I do have one regret. I wish I’d got some bolt cutters to break into the old Adelaide Billing ward before it was levelled. I feel that regret in my marrow, and I have a recurring dream where I can’t get into the ward. But there’s another dream happening where I’m right there, seeing myself not being able to get into the ward. Sometimes I get in without the bolt cutters. The double doors open up slowly, and I can feel the cool, polished terrazzo under my feet.

I still have nightmares about its old lift that shake me awake, and leave me unable to get back to sleep. They’re cyclical, and after a watched the hospital being torn down, I had more recurrent dreams about trying to get into the old Adelaide Billing doors.

But with every ending, there’s always a beginning. The day before Christmas, I moved into my new house, and I’m beyond besotted. I can see the stars every night, there are trees as far as the eye can see, the birds sing to me every morning, and I think I have an owl after finding a feather from a Powerful Owl, which is curious because I asked for an owl to look over me at the beginning of the year. Sometimes life is funny like that.

And so, I’ll cast my attention to this new beginning with fairy dens, banana palms, owls, native hibiscus and old, thickly rooted jasmine. And yes, my new place has terrazzo floors …

The places I go …

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It is akin to a dream, this dense clump of trees unfolding before me, reaching sharply into the sky. As I walk through the forest under canopies of palms and eucalypts and a discord of screaming birds, my feet arrive at a bog. I’m at the lip of a lake I cannot reach for the rain that has distended the ground. Perhaps Jacky can take me tomorrow so I can see where it splits from the earth and drops away.

There is life above, around and below me. The swollen ground silently objects under my boots and as I lift my feet, it plumps up like a pudding.

The air is slow and dense from woodsmoke, and it anchors me to the moment. I crush leaves between my fingers; that stain of scent not leaving the folds of my hands until I bathe later that evening.

With the sun caught in the canopies – splintering shadows onto the ground as though they are dancing a jive – the screech of a cockatoo and flurries of parrots embroider the Piccabeen palms. Their silver mottled skins are grooved with what looks like inverted feathers, as though someone has taken the time to stencil each one.

Early evening yields to the call of the kookaburra, cackling at our stupidity and the irksome way we do not love them every minute of every day.

Diamonds scuttle across the water as the day reaches into dusk. The milky way splashes across in silver and white – a smattering of light and relief in their spilt majesty. The sky cradles a waning moon.

Being here, it takes time to breathe at a slower pace; to let my belly soften and sink into my winter bones. I find myself in a world where it is becoming more difficult to disconnect from the goings on of humanity, my country, my community. There is a deep well within me of wanting to be free from the destruction, the war, and the suffering I have no control over. But then I realise for the millionth time that I control nothing. I can but try to go forwards in what seems to be the right direction. I can shepherd and steer myself, yet control does not belong to me. It never has.

I am finding myself enjoying growing older. Not only because I never expected to, but with the growth itself. I am assured as a human being, though never would I believe that I am particularly ‘good’ at any one thing, although I am on my way to becoming an exceedingly keen listener, and that itself is an art. 

Another art (and something I am not particularly good at) is writing. It is a pursuit I will never be great or even exceedingly good at. If I ever become half the writer I have yearned to be all my life, would that be a paragon of happiness? How am I ever to know if I am anything over than average unless someone tells me differently? And even then, can I bring myself to believe them? In all likelihood – not a chance.

With age comes wisdom and truth. Some are fraught with despair, while others have a far more convivial pulse. I remain unconvinced that absolute truths do not exist, although these things often come down to perception.

Breaking my bonds with the city, I ‘go within’ as Jacky calls it, and reach back into the folds of myself I have forgotten or allowed to lapse. I come back to breath, firing my body in the sun. My lungs expand; each lobe bristling with each seemingly bottomless breath. I readjust the way a spinnaker does downwind. Silence is my ballast.

As I come to see my senses as a decoy, I’m carried towards a deeper understanding of who I am, where I am in the world and how I came to be here. I temper my body, but do not become weary, and there is a far greater element of not needing answers – to embrace the mystery and come home. Should books and music, baths and tea, shadows on the wall from the moon, and the odd storm be all I had for company, I would want for nothing. For there is equanimity in the quiet, and peace in patience.

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Purple cardigan

A story from my childhood has recently been featured on photographer and multidisciplinary artist Mindy Stricke’s website for her ‘Grief Landscapes’ project. You can find it here.

A little about ‘Grief Landscapes’ … ‘for the initial phase of Grief Landscapes, I’m documenting the unique terrain of people’s grief through photography and a collaborative process with the public. First, I’m inviting people to participate by answering a series of questions online about how they grieved after someone’s death. I’m then photographing an object in extreme close-up that evokes the memory of the person who died, transforming it into an abstract landscape inspired by the participant’s grief story.’

Thank you for all of your hard work, Mindy and for sharing Ineka with the world.

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When you get punched in the face

A couple of years after my transplant, I was assaulted. Had the shit beaten out of me. What made it even more shameful, was that I was beaten up by a girl. Of course this rationale has evolved with the gradual unfurling of my life and hard won wisdom, so I know that it doesn’t matter who hits you. Girl, boy, woman, man – it’s violence and it should never be tolerated.

So here’s some back story: I had been at a Cystic Fibrosis luncheon (as was tradition) and I admit that I was intoxicated during the day, but stopped drinking early afternoon. Around dusk, my friends and I hopped on a ferry from Southbank to go to a friends place at New Farm. I was feeling clear headed and had been drinking water for quite a few hours.

When we arrived, there were quite a few people we didn’t know, so we sat around in a circle (old hippie habits die hard), and I got to talking to a guy about where we had been. He seemed friendly – long red dreads, not quite a hippie, but more of what we would call a ‘feral’ (terrible term, I know, but it was a term nonetheless). I explained that I had CF, to which he responded, ‘you look really well,’ so I told him that I had had a transplant and he commented that I probably had some wicked scars.

We engaged for about twenty minutes, but things started to get a little strange and off topic, so I excused myself and walked away. This man’s wife who I thought looked really friendly, for she too had long dreads and was wearing Doc Martens which transported me back to my youth – had seen us talking, and as she turned towards me, a storm rose in her face and she asked me what I was looking at. I replied, ‘absolutely nothing’, picked up some grated cheese that was on a table with some other snacks, and threw it behind me as I walked away. I wasn’t aiming for her, but it was her perception that I was.

The next thing I remember, she was on me and I was up against an old car; punching me in the chest and ribs, and then grabbing my head and smashing it into the car window. My first thought was to protect my face – I was wearing glasses after all. Then a horrific thought crossed my mind – that my head was going to be smashed through the glass (old glass that shatters, NOT safety glass that sticks together), so I just took it.

She smashed my head into the window so hard that my glasses flew off, she lifted me up against the car so that I lost my shoes, and my friends were behind her screaming to leave me be. The thing is, she was Amazonian when I am not, and she just kept the blows coming. Her husband eventually dragged her off, but she was trying kick me in the face. I copped a boot to the chest which took the wind out of me, and I stumbled away while they got in their car and took off. Then they came back. After about fifteen minutes (we were still waiting for a taxi at this point to go to the police station), I saw her get out of the car, light a cigarette and walk back to the party as though nothing had happened. She was so oddly blissed out and mellow, and my educated guess was that she had had a hit of heroin or something similar which had calmed her down.

I don’t fight dirty. Never have, never will. When I was going in high school, my Dad taught me how to box; how to protect myself even though (or because of) I was going to an all girls school. And so that night, I didn’t fight back. I went into protection mode. If I threw some grated cheese behind me that she mistook for deliberate hostility, making her believe it was ok to beat me up, then that’s on her.

My dear friend M (who happened to be a lawyer at the time) and I went to Police Headquarters and I wrote down a preliminary statement. My memory was pretty fresh, but I was in shock, so the statement was brought up in court as being ‘contradictory’ to my official statement that I made about later that week.

When I got home, my Mum took photographs of the bloodied scratches and bruises across my chest and neck. Even more concerning was that I had had a central line removed just two days before and she had scratched the scab off it and drawn blood with her fingernails. Later that night, I struggled to sleep because the attack kept playing like movie reel in my head – a punch here, a kick there.

When I tried to get out of bed the next day, my whole body ached like I had a really bad flu, so I called the transplant unit and they said to come in straight away – I needed to be checked out, x-rayed and have bloods taken. I could barely move and because this girl was possibly a drug addict, I had to be tested for HIV and Hepatitis because as I mentioned earlier, she had scratched the scab off my CV line and drawn blood. I had fourteen x-rays, was checked out by a physiotherapist and then I went home to rest.

It felt like an age waiting for my blood results to come back, and I admit that I was feeling pretty distressed. When they came back clear, my doctor, family and I were relieved to say the least.

The worst thing about the whole situation was that the woman who assaulted me was in the care industry. She was an occupational therapist at a major metropolitan hospital and  she knew that I had had a transplant and therefore was a ‘soft’ and vulnerable target. My transplant consultant wanted her struck off immediately, but somehow that didn’t transpire.

Court was brutal and unforgiving. I felt so terribly guilty that my friends had to testify, but I was determined that this person was to be accountable for her actions. Her husband arrived at court wearing no shoes and repeatedly walked up to the courtroom to listen to proceedings when he shouldn’t have. The lovely detective who took my official statement didn’t think this was right, so he was given a warning to stay away or go elsewhere.

When I had to get up on the stand, I had strips torn off me by her lawyer (I still remember his name), and he manipulated what had happened on the night, where I was a cheese-throwing bitch who provoked the attack. I know that’s what lawyers are supposed to do, but a few minutes into the cross-examination, I was a bawling mess. In fact, he was very capable at making me feel like shit, but I was lucky enough to have the states top DPP who representing me. I also had a wonderful and compassionate detective who actually gave a shit about what had happened. My lawyer made a very strong argument that she was a violent offender, and after an arduous day of court, Mum and I hopped on a train, but as we were nearing home, we were called back.

I had to get on the stand again, and to cut a long story short, the woman who assaulted me was found guilty of grievous bodily harm which meant that she had to pay me a reasonable sum of money and complete 200 hours of community service. What upset and disappointed me the most, was that there was no conviction recorded. In fact, I would have happily done away with the money in place of a conviction. The fact that this person was an occupational therapist working with vulnerable people and who possibly had a drug problem disturbed me greatly.

For the first few months after the attack, I was constantly checking my back, especially when I was at uni. I didn’t feel safe and that really grated me. It lowered my self-confidence and even though I was already hyper-aware of my surroundings after being with my Mum when two piss poor excuses of men who mugged her tried to run her over in a carpark when I was fourteen, I became a little paranoid for a few months and was always at the ready to fight. My nerves were shot, and even someone running behind me was enough to set me off and put me into fight or flight mode – mostly fight mode where my  fists would curl instinctively until the perceived threat had passed.

Looking back, I was so incredibly naive to think that these people were good people. I’ve always looked for the positive in everyone I meet, and while it was a hard lesson to learn, I refused to let my assault dictate who I engaged with, and soon I was feeling more positive about interacting with humans I did not know – I was just a little more selective.

The entire process, from the assault to the court case, exhausted me and my only real escape was studying for my creating writing degree, which ripped me back to my youth where study was my escape from all of the death and suffering that was all around me on an almost daily basis when I was in hospital. Friends deteriorating before my eyes, friends dying, trying to help said dying friends die a more comfortable death, seeing kids pinned down so doctors could shove in an IV or a nasal-gastric tube for feeding. The word brutal  comes to mind again.

I rarely think about my assault, but something a couple of days ago triggered a surge of memories, and I wanted to write about (and share) what happened. Violence is never the answer, and instead of being embarrassed about not fighting back, I’m proud that I protected myself as best I could and that I walked away with grace and my dignity intact.

You may ask why I didn’t just let it go and not report it to the police. I was always going to report it to police because I  was raised to believe that everyone needs to be responsible and accountable for their actions. I found out a few years later that her marriage ended. Did that make me feel good? Temporarily, yes. Now? Not so much. Did I want something awful to happen to her after she assaulted me? Yes. But then I learned that when you dig a grave for one person, you need to dig another for yourself, and that held no appeal for me. Do I hope that she’s now ok? After my own addiction issues, yes. More than ever. I forgave her a long ago, but I will never forget the physical, emotional and spiritual pain she put me through. Spiritual pain? Well, that’s another blog post entirely …

 

 

The bitter taste of defeat and failure

Always expect the unexpected. Be prepared like a girl scout without the rules (but with the cookies). That’s always been one of my life’s mottos. After taking my last ever dose of opiate antagonist therapy last Friday, I was relieved when I only had some minor restless limbs when I turned in for bed that evening. I had been on the lowest dose possible, so I couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen next. On Saturday night, I drove up the coast for a prawn fest and I lay awake all night. I only had a couple of ‘punches’, in that my arms went a little haywire and my legs were sore, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

I’ve always adhered to the adage that our hell is here on earth, and on Sunday night, that was very much the case. My legs were kicking uncontrollably, my arms were punching like I was in the ring with Danny Green (I would’ve been half a chance, too). Good old akathisia (restless legs) had consumed my muscles and seemingly, my bones. Even my chest was doing the pop and drop. At first I read about what I could do to alleviate the symptoms, but after a few hours I was in a really bad place. In fact, I was actually quite stricken. So much so that I nearly called paramedics.

I tried laying on the floor. I tried massaging my legs. I tried star jumps and jogging on the spot – which worked – until I stopped moving. I tried stretching. I swore – a lot – and then I cried. I cried with fear and frustration. Basically, if I had ben a crab I would have kicked my flesh out of my shell. Instead, I took a dose of buprenorphine, the very stuff I had just stopped taking, hoping it would calm my body and I’d stop kicking like a cocky prize fighter. Thankfully it did, but these decisions carry a cost. I felt like an abject failure. The last thing I was expecting (or wanting) to do was to ‘dose’ again, but it was all I could do after a few hours of kicking the shit out of the air and blankets and becoming increasingly distressed to the point where I actually thought it was going to kill me. I nearly called paramedics. I guess panic and great suffering will do that. Ah, the bitter taste of defeat.

After discussing some options with one of the pharmacists from the transplant team the next morning, I went to see my GP who was happy to prescribe me with a muscle relaxant, but we were also keen to try a more conservative approach of tonic water (for the quinine), epsom salts baths, magnesium therapy and then the muscle relaxants. A bath, coupled with Nina Simone soothed me greatly, and the quadruple therapy approach worked a treat. I slept. Not a single twitch. In fact, I woke up smiling.

But before I slept, I had to get the fuck over myself and my feelings of worthlessness and failure. My doctor laid my feelings of failure to rest after assuring me that I’d done incredibly well and that these things happen. They may be unexpected, but they happen.

I wish I could be far more noble and say that the suffering was worth it, but I can’t. Last night I managed to drop my dose of muscle relaxant which I see as a win, so I’ll aim to decrease the dose again this evening.

It’s awfully liberating having a full bottle of diazepam in my possession, and not feel at all inclined to abuse it. I actually couldn’t think of anything worse; those feelings of failure simply aren’t worth it. But I’ll tell you what IS.

Today I walked into the chemist I’ve been going to for just over two years where I saw my favourite pharm-boy for the last time at the ‘junkie counter’. Let’s call him D. D was so bloody happy that I’d been able to stop taking the medication and didn’t need any more for the rest of the year. I was officially off the books. Another lovely pharmacist who had dosed me a couple of weeks ago also passed on her congrats. D and I shared a big hug and we had a chat about Christmas. Hugs are better than drugs, people! I thought they’d be glad to see the back of me, but they asked me to pop in and say hello when I’m passing by. Here’s hoping the hugs are requisite with each visit.

I must extend my gratitude for being treated with respect and not as a person of failure and inadequacy who didn’t deserve kindness because of my addiction issues. The pharmacy I go to treats everyone with the respect they deserve, and I’ll never forget that kindness, compassion and how they never brought my dignity into question.

This evening I’m feeling less of a failure and more like a warrior; a survivor. I managed to do 95% of my Christmas shopping in record time yesterday and right now I’m working on a elegiac poem for a fellow poet and friend who died last year. I miss him. I miss his humour, his spirit and his ability to turn a few words into masterpieces. The tug of death was too strong for Matthew, and the world is a poorer place without his presence.

So I guess this is where I wish you all a Merry Christmas even though Christmas can be an incredibly challenging time of year for so many. My hope is that whatever you choose to do – or not do – makes you happy and settles your soul. This cover of The Boss’s ‘I’m on fire’ by Matt Andersen always moves me. Big love to all.

 

The power of choice

I made a big decision yesterday. I decided that I no longer need my opiate antagonist therapy. I had planned to stop on my birthday, which just happens to fall on New Year’s Eve, but I’ve been feeling so happy and settled that I knew I could do it. And so I did. The ‘high’ from not having to take the bitter pills I’ve been placing under my tongue for two years was unexpectedly immense. I felt as though I could scale a mountain. I danced and howled at the fireworks that are barnstorming the sky every night before Christmas.

But then the night’s hands stretched towards midnight, and I toddled off to bed where the inevitable withdrawal symptoms began to kick in. I was hot, then freezing cold. I had restless legs and my arms were flailing uncontrollably, so I clamped them shut between my thighs and dealt with it. Because that’s what you do when you make a choice.

I woke up early this morning feeling like I could swoop into the sky with those long gone fireworks, but now I’m a little tired simply because I’m functioning on very little sleep. I don’t know how long these side effects will last – maybe a few days or longer – but they beat being reliant on any substance EVERY FUCKING TIME. I ate a hearty breakfast, downed a legal addictive stimulant coffee and with my full belly and happy heart, I thought I would sleep, but I’m feeling so free and alert that I had to write.

The last two years I’ve been on Buprenorphine have been some of the most memorable and active, simply because I wasn’t wasting my life getting high and sleeping my life away. I got shit done – lots of it – and last year was an incredible year that presented me with some life changing opportunities. This year has been a little more sedate, but just as fulfilling, if not more.

A couple of weeks ago, I had my last appointment with my addiction specialist and we decided that I would stop taking the ‘bupe’ on my birthday so I could start the New Year clean and fresh as a daisy. I won’t go into the specifics of my final appointment, but it was rich with poignancy. I will miss my doctor’s wisdom and his ability to be transparent with the realities about my state of addiction. He has been such a source of encouragement, and when I last saw him, we hugged and exchanged kind words. He also gave me a beautiful healing stone which I’ve added to my mineral collection (or crystals, if you want to call them that).

After ruminating about the supportive relationship with my addiction specialist, I realised that I had met one of the finest doctors who had ever treated me, and I’ve met hundreds – maybe thousands – of doctors. I’ve met doctors who shouldn’t be doctors, but this man genuinely knows how to care for his patients. He knows that their – our – lives are in his hands. He was one of the very few people I trusted to show my TEDx talk to prior to speaking on the day, and he had nothing but lashings of encouragement and praise. He’s the kind of doctor and human being you want as your doctor. He was in my corner from the start and I couldn’t have done it without him. Behold the healing stone …

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Peace. Joy. Liberation. THAT is how I am feeling today, and how I will continue to feel even through the flailing limbs and mad body temperature fluctuations. I will hold that feeling of pride close to me and that is how I will get through, because there is no other way.

I’m excited about a whole gamut of stuff right now, but I’m mostly excited that I can turn that bloody alarm off my phone that used to remind me to ‘dose’ at four-thirty every afternoon. No more alarms. No more bitter pills. No more lining up at the junkie counter at the chemist to be ‘dosed’.

I get to enjoy Christmas with my loved ones with no attachments, and while last year may be tough to beat (I had my sister back, and my parents, her and I danced the night away), I’m not out to break records. I’m here to live, love, be loved and give. It really is that simple. Yes, there have been deep feelings of shame I can attribute to my drug use (and lining up at the junkie counter), but like the scars on my body that whisper to me that I am a warrior, I’m more than happy to share my stories of how I have seemingly conquered my addiction to narcotics.

Now this may or may not interest you, but I’ve been reading a lot of peer reviewed papers and first hand experiences of how psychedelics are used in addiction therapy and to heighten spirituality with the dying. I’m more invested in how psychedelics are used with the dying, and while I wouldn’t do it myself due to the risks to cognitive function and the potential psychiatric issues, I’d probably give it a go if I was at the end of my life. While the potential for dependency is very low, what a ride it would be. Now have a look at this diagram:

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I don’t do alcohol, nicotine and my intake of coffee these days is practically non-existent in comparison to what I used to consume. Prior to transplant, apart from morphine, I would continuously suck on nitrous oxide (Entonox) when physiotherapy became too painful. It helped, but it can cause bleeding, so I was closely monitored and as such never had physio again due to uncontrollable pain. When I was dying, all that mattered was that I was comfortable from both a physical and spiritual standpoint.

Now take a look at where Psilocybin (‘magic mushrooms’), LSD and Mescaline are on the chart. Very low in dependency. It never seemed to hurt Jack Kerouac or Sir Ginsberg and their prolific writing. Until it did. A slew of writers ‘graduated’ to speed, benzodiazepines – and the rest – which inevitably lead to this: ‘Kerouac took so much amphetamine when he first discovered the inhaler high that he lost most of his hair and his legs swelled up with thrombophlebitis.’ Not sexy at all. So while it aided their art for a while, it swallowed them whole and Kerouac was dead at the age of 47. I am eight years away from 47 and do not want to die, so to think I was addicted to narcotics like morphine and pethidine horrifies me, because after heroin, they’re at the top of the list with both dependence and morbidity. Pentobarbital (often marketed as Nembutal) is right up there, too. Nembutal is the choice drug for euthanasia, and cocaine is not far behind.

I’ve spoken at length with friends who have tried all manner of substances over the years: ecstasy, methamphetamine, mescaline and LSD, heroin, morphine, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol. That’s right – alcohol is also on the list with a level of high morbidity too. Is this a cautionary tale about drugs? Perhaps.

So enough of the horror for me. Instead, I am going to try to not be horrified with how close I came to death when I was using, but will tap into the subtleties of that emotion when I need to feel proud. Did I win the fight against drugs? Did I win the fight against CF and cancer? Not quite, and for a couple of reasons. I’ve never particularly liked or understood the militarisation of illness or death, and I don’t plan on using that model for how I got through my addiction. I GOT THROUGH IT. And I got through it with support, love, the right medication, meditation, music, writing and fuck off stubbornness. I can’t say that I single handedly came through the other side without help, but I did most of the work myself because I’m not one to ‘lean in’ – I never have been.

Having an addiction specialist and a supportive family was one thing and while I only told a handful of my closest friends, they knew from day one that the only way I get through the really tough shit is on my own. I attribute that to spending so much time alone in hospital once my Mum had to leave so she could love and look after my sister and my Dad. Being alone gives you a tremendous sense of temerity and independence, as well as an imagination to rival Tolkein (although I was never going to be as crafty as he was – not even close).

I’ve never been codependent on another person, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. More often than not, I’ve reasoned that it’s for the best because I’ve always wagered that I will live the rest of my life alone. Except that I’m not. I want to thank everyone for letting me just be. For still loving me. For asking how I’m going. For always asking and accepting that wherever I am, no matter what may be happening, ‘I’m fine, thank you’, even when I’m not.

Endnote: this is what I strutted – really strutted and danced – around the house to last night. Because I’m feeling good.

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.