Meth has devastated many lives in all levels of society. Carly Thomas talks to users about their crazy journey down into and then out of the rabbit hole.
It’s someone’s lover, their partner, another’s best friend, longest friend, truest friend. It’s an obsession, an everything, a late-night longing that eventually leads down to a deep, deep and very dark, dark hole.
It’s methamphetamine and it’s a big, bad beast of a drug.
And don’t think it’s not in your world, your life, your circle of friends, because it is – somewhere, hidden in the dusty corners, tucked away on the top shelf, it’s there. Don’t think you’re immune, too good, too respectable, too smart or too sheltered. Meth is clever, it’s persistent and it’s filtering into society, manipulating not just the vulnerable but those who are curious, those who just need to stay awake for a few more hours in the day to get things done, those who never thought they’d get hooked.
*A sanctuary where lives begin anew
Mark* was working as a van salesman, driving around the country, working long, late hours. He smoked a bit of marijuana and had heard about crank, as it was called back in the day.
Mark was 19, he was curious and he says he waited for the opportunity to give it a go.
“I was at a guy’s place who was much more into the drug scene and I remember being in his house and it was like a train station. All these people that I didn’t even know existed, that type of person.
“I didn’t know what was going on really and then he appeared and I was actually there to buy marijuana and he said ‘forget about that, try this’ and he had his mirror on his bed and he put a big line on it. It was much more than I ever needed.”
A moment, a decision made when he was 19, nearly 30 years ago, a day in the life of Mark became the first day in the life of an addict. It became his mate straight away; he would work, earn money and when he got paid, his first thought would be, “I have to get some”.
“When you’re on it you have an answer to every question, you can talk to strangers, lose your inhibitions. Even in bad scenarios you can be there and they’re not so bad, you accept them for what they are.”
Mark always worked, in close to 30 years of having a meth habit he held down jobs throughout. A functioning user, someone that people didn’t necessarily suspect, someone who worked hard to support his habit, a vicious cycle: work, get paid, score and use, repeated over and over.
“My consumption increased hugely. You want more and if you’ve been up all night you need it to function the next day. I’d know that if I didn’t have it I’d still go to work but I knew that I was in for a hard day. Physically, mentally.
“I reached a time where I had on credit the amount that I was earning and it got to the point where I can remember my grocery shopping was four potatoes and I was OK with that.
“It pretty much consumes your life. I think I knew that it was happening and that I was focused on it and it wasn’t a good thing in the normality of the world, but you sort of create your own world. I wasn’t functioning as a so-called normal person, but I rebelled against that, I didn’t want to be like a normal person.”
Meth was Mark’s friend, what more did he need?
He was from a large family, never a lead in his family situation – he had been sent to boarding school – so it wasn’t hard to withdraw.
It’s a sentiment shared by Sarah. She is one of seven siblings and she found her teenage years tough.
“I was the mum for the youngest four. I was pretty sheltered, I wasn’t allowed to go into town, I couldn’t go to any parties and when I went through puberty, I just remember feeling so angry at them.”
Sarah started out taking a lot of Panadol, then moved on to alcohol and at age 14, marijuana and ecstasy. At 19 Sarah got pregnant and miscarried at 16 weeks. She was heartbroken.
“I’d always wanted a baby of my own. I started abusing temazepam, diazepam and I got extremely hooked on them, like I would probably take 60 a day. I think my parents gave up on me.”
Then came methamphetamine and Sarah’s dependency on the drug moved in fast. Three months into using and she had acquired a $1200 a day habit. It was an old friend from high school got her on to it and Sarah says in hindsight that the friend wanted her to get hooked so she would need it, buy it, become dependent.
“You think they are your friends, but they aren’t. . . . she needed my business to keep their smoking alive, because without my money they couldn’t smoke. At the end of it she got me hooked and then when I was fully in the hook of it and I had nowhere to stay, they were nowhere to be seen.
“This is a disgusting drug, it destroys. People are living in poverty, smoking around their children, when they’re pregnant. They don’t care.”
Two years of Sarah’s life became dedicated to the drug: getting it, smoking it. She describes it as her boyfriend; it loved her, cared for her and her biggest fear was it not being there.
“When you’re on it you feel more empowered, your self-esteem is like through the roof and you’re better at everything that you do. You can go to work and work 10 hours and have no break. You can function but in the addiction cycle, you’re not addicted at the start but then the more I went on I would have the drug every single day and it’s so expensive.
“You start to love it. I lost so much weight, I was 75 kg and I got down to 58 kg within a year and I loved it. I looked good and at school you know it’s hard when you don’t fit in, but with meth you have a sense of belonging because you’re in a group and you’re with druggies. You’re all the same, all addicts seem to be the same. They have the same feelings, we’ve been through the craving for it the fighting for it. You have to fight for that drug every day.”
And when she couldn’t get it, Sarah said the comedown was horrific.
“You plan it, you have high anxiety because you don’t want to come down so you just smoke more and more and more. You’re crying you’re depressed. I cut myself, I was just so upset, it’s unbelievable and, when you’re in that world, people stuff you over.
“When you’re there you’re in a totally different state of mind, you become really aggressive, paranoid, because sometimes you’ve been up for seven days. Sometimes I wouldn’t even sit down for days.”
Sarah’s daily routine pivoted around meth.
“I would sit in bed all night, get up and go do something then sit down, then go and have a shower. You’re feeling like s… now. I’d come in, put a scoop in the pipe, smoke it then go and do my face, put my make up on, then I’d have another puff and then I’d be like, ‘what to do now?’ So I’d get changed, then I’d look at my face and think yuck, wash it off, then do it again, then get changed like 10 times.
“I’d walk around in my high heels, it would go on for so long, you’re just so out of it. You’d have another puff then go for a drive and visit your friend and then you’re so bored and you’ve got the dries and you’re uncomfortable because you’ve got anxiety so you have some more and then some more. Your whole day is based on it. When you think about it, it’s pretty bloody boring.”
Sarah would roll with it, which means she would sell meth and be supplied for free in return. She held down a job to begin with but then things started to spiral downwards; she didn’t pay her rent for two weeks then was arrested when a party got out out of control.
“A girl got really aggressive with me. When you are high, it turns you into a different person, you’re so high you don’t care. You haven’t eaten in days, your brain is just fatigued, you’re aggressive. I went into my room and I got a knife, and I was like don’t ‘f… with me’.
“You hang out with people who are mongrels, thugs. They called the cops and I got arrested.”
The drug gets bigger, it gains momentum; the hole grows, the edge gets closer and your hold on it gets more precarious. The best friend starts to turn, the boyfriend isn’t there for you when you’re coming down, the side effects start to move to the front. Methamphetamine takes hold of a life.
Tim knows all too well how it all spirals, how you can keep your foot on the brakes for only so long.
He kept on top of it for years, hidden from friends and family. He started using marijuana at high school and selling it to support his habit. He says he did it to be cool, to fit in. He started taking methamphetamine for the same reason, peer pressure, going along with the crowd.
Tim is clever, eloquent, a person who set his work goals high. Too high. As he moved up a notch in his job, his drug use went up to help him keep up.
“At first I would just use in the weekend and stop on Sunday because I knew I’d have work on Monday. I’d get paid on Thursday and would buy a large amount of meth, enough to sell and smoke from Thursday through to Saturday.
“Then I started doing larger contracts and not being able to put the job away and I’d buy even larger amounts to last me through the week. It gave me the motivation to work eight-hour days and four hours at night doing perk jobs. Doing that week-in, week-out you’re just so damned tired and then coming home trying to be there for the kids, I just had no energy.
“It was a way of trying to gain extra energy and obviously not sleeping much because it made me feel like I needed it the next day in order to get out of bed.”
It was taking over, his control was slipping.
“I started suffering from depression, had a bit of a mental breakdown at my last job and that was where my using got to the point where I couldn’t say no. I had to get it in order to get up in the morning or survive.
“I was selling it more and more, lowering my morals more and more. In the last two years it took control of my life and ruined it.”
Tim was using his finely honed skills of manipulation to get people hooked.
“I got good at selling drugs because I learnt how to get people to want to buy them and use and I’ve ruined quite a few people’s lives like that.
“I’d go in and I’d force them to buy it off me by manipulating them into certain things.”
Tim contemplated killing himself, driving his car off the road; he’s on anti-depressants and says they help. He says the biggest part of depression and addiction is not knowing.
“It’s the scariest thing in the world, it drives you to lose your mind really; if you don’t know what’s going on, you go crazy. You think ‘why the hell am I feeling this way?’ and these guys explain why your brain is doing what it’s doing and it gives you a bit more control back and a bit of understanding.”
Tim is referring to the Mash Trust and the Monarch program addressing mental health and addiction issues. He’s on week five, he’s clean for the first time in a long time and he’s not watching his back because his care workers have got it for him.
It’s the same programme that Mark went through and Sarah as well.
Mark had kept up his level of control for so long but the last 10 years became more of a struggle.
“I came to a point where trying to keep up daily was not effective.”
He got caught growing and selling marijuana a few times, the second time was last September.
“Through due process I got caught. I expected to be put back in jail again and the policeman who arrested me told me I should get some rehabilitation and, if need be, he would pick me up and take me there every day. I took it as a ‘yeah right’ at first but it just kept coming up in my head so I went and saw him.
“He came to Mash and got the forms for me, read questions and wrote the words down. He pointed me in the right direction; what he’d told me was ringing in my head, I thought it was time to do something.”
Sarah had hit rock bottom. She was living with her nana, coming down off the drug, vomiting daily because she wasn’t used to food.
She went through the drug and alcohol centre at Palmerston North Hospital and they told her to keep smoking meth until she could go to detox.
She decided to go it alone, with just the backup of her family.
“I just decided ‘no that’s it’ and I did it on my own. It was horrible, it lasted about seven weeks. You crave it, you dream about it, you can taste it in your mouth, you get really depressed, you can’t really do anything properly.
“You don’t wean yourself off methamphetamine, you just have to stop, completely, you just have to get through that.”
Sarah then went on the Monarch program and completed her second round earlier this year. Her dad moved down from Auckland and is living with her and she has just got a job.
“People can get out of that scene, they just have to want to. You can’t make someone give up something, they have to do it themselves. Mash was like a deep awakening of yourself, you get to learn about everything.
“When we’re in that room we are all the same. I have now swapped my addiction to chocolate, it’s borderline mad but it’s better than meth. I don’t want to look back and look at my young years and think all I did was worry about what people thought of me.”
Tim went through the social detoxification service offered at the Salvation Army before he got to Mash Trust.
He’d had a drug binge which he threw $2000 at; he knew he was heading towards the end and “wanted to end it with a bang”. He was arrested after an argument with his wife and the bed at the men’s hostel was certainly the beginning of the end of his addiction.
“The week of detox at the Sally Army was like lockdown, like a prison, which was good. I slept for two days; the week beforehand I’d had four to six hours sleep in a week. I decided to be dedicated to this as much as I could be with my distorted sense of mind, because I was all over the place, didn’t know what was up or down, left or right. But Aunty Anne ( alcohol and other drugs case worker Anne Te Kawa at the Salvation Army), an amazing lady, dragged me out of bed on the third day – kicking and screaming pretty much, still feeling really low.
“I had hit the big wall of depression, I had terrible suicidal thoughts. These guys came along and I could see that there was more than one way out.
“Anne dragged me out and got me back in the world of the living.”
It’s a world the three of them haven’t lived in for a while; for Mark, the longest user, three decades of his life were spent circling a drug that would go up in smoke as soon as he got it. In this world but only just, the outside was always close by.
They are all back, talking about it, working their way through it; sad, yes, scarred, deeply, but they are back in the world of the living and free from the beast at their backs. And it’s a beast that has its keen and clever eye on us all.
* The meth users we talked to are real people but in the interests of helping their rehabilitation we agreed to not use their real names.