“Once people realise that it could be someone they know who uses drugs, there is an incentive to protect the wellbeing of friends and loved ones.”

A Sydney solicitor shares her story of drug use – and why you should too

Nat Gombos

I don’t fit the stereotype painted by the media of a typical drug user, which is why I knew I wanted to get involved with Story Lab. It’s rare to see stories in the media of people who live relatively normal lives alongside their drug use, even though this is most people’s experience.

The media much more often tells stories about how tragic circumstances lead to problematic use and how drugs are a coping mechanism. Otherwise, it’s usually a story framing drug users as deviant criminals who are inherently bad. Neither of these are representative of the majority of people I know who use drugs. As someone who doesn’t fit the typical stereotype, I feel an obligation to be honest and share my story. I want to break down the fear-based stigma that has been created around people who use drugs. 

Most people associate illegal drug use with those who are disadvantaged. The public needs to be made aware of the otherwise private stories of privileged people who use drugs. Coming from a relatively privileged background, I would regularly walk through Sydenham Station on my way to work and would never get pulled over wearing heels and a suit, but I would see police targeting rough sleepers and young people for strip searches. 

I remember feeling fearful and wondering what the implications would be of speaking out, but at the same time I felt empowered that Unharm had taken an interest in my story and believed I could make a difference. In the beginning, I had a lot of questions about how people would see me and what would be the consequences of speaking up. While these concerns seemed reasonable at the time, I now know that they only stemmed from the stigma around drug users and the fear that I had taken on because of that. 

While I’ve definitely had to deal with those questions throughout the process, I came to realise that the misconceptions around drug use is what’s holding people back from seeing reality. It was actually a book I read while studying law that made me realise – in order to best fulfil my ethical obligations as a lawyer, I need to extend the principles of honesty and integrity beyond professional dealings and embody that ethic in everyday life. To remain silent about my own experiences would be contrary to this. So I decided to speak out, even though it carries personal risk, because I see it as being in service of a greater good in destigmatising drug use and changing the narrative.

The Story Lab program is a bit of an oxymoron in the sense that, on one hand, it draws on the experiences of normal people, but on the other hand, bringing these stories to light is astonishing to those who have a very rigid perception of what a typical drug user looks like. Some of the people in the program shared quite similar experiences to me and some were different, and that’s representative of what drug users are – diverse. 

That’s why people need to tell their story to show society that there isn’t just one type of user. By creating a more nuanced – and accurate – conversation around drug use, we can challenge the deviant addict representation portrayed by the media. Once people realise that it could be someone they know who uses drugs, there is an incentive to protect the wellbeing of friends and loved ones. 

Nat Gombos is a Sydney solicitor and business consultant. She is sharing her story as part of Unharm’s Story Lab program. 

Share your story

If you have your own lived experience to share and are passionate about this issue – we’d love to hear from you, as we know that people with lived experience are the best advocates for a more compassionate approach to drug use. Click here to find out more about how you can share your story.