We should not be told to accept we are powerless. 

My drug use was problematic for a long time but it didn’t have to be.

Karly King

Homelessness, sexual assault, mental health – they were my real problems. My drug use was a secondary issue, but that’s all that people wanted to fixate on. 

I first started taking illegal drugs when I was 15. I always had older boyfriends, some of whom dealt heroin. After I was kicked out of school, I started to use it quite heavily.

In my early 20s, I moved back to Perth where there was a heroin shortage. I moved onto ice, which was a form of self-medication to manage undiagnosed ADHD.

After contracting Hep C and almost losing my arm, I was ordered to go to rehab. From the age of 26, I did three stints in rehab. I then went to Narcotics Anonymous for five years, and cleared Hep C.

I don’t think rehab was particularly helpful. Instead, I should have been sent to a social worker who would have been able to help me with my mental health and education. 

The rehabilitation systems in Australia, in particular the 12-step model, are harmful for the marginalised and vulnerable. The 12-step model is outdated and moralistic yet most rehabs still use it.  The first step is admitting you are powerless, and that your life has become unmanageable. The second step is handing your power to a “higher power”.

Women should not be told to accept we are powerless. Similarly, recovery should not be treated as a total redemption arc. Rehab tells you that if you want to accept help, you have to be prepared to completely let go of everything else in your life. You have to be willing to be locked away somewhere. This is a really aggressive way of controlling someone’s life. When help is offered, it’s always ‘mandated’. There are no options, there is no warmth. Australia is tough on drugs, but tough on drug users as well. Relapsing is a normal and expected part of recovery, and it’s so dangerous to push this narrative that if people use drugs again, then they’ve ruined years of good work. 

After three stints in rehab, I found running and trained as a marathon runner which became my new ‘high’.  

But after a car accident left my left leg mangled, I was prescribed oxycodone and morphine and I started self-medicating with those substances. In order to get off the addictive medications, I ended up on ORT (opioid replacement treatment) and today still take opiate blocker Subutex alongside Concerta, which has been prescribed to manage my ADHD symptoms. 

These medications have benefitted my life and given me much-needed stability, yet I constantly feel unfairly surveillanced and judged. It breaks my brain that people are judged so intensely for being on medication that makes them a better citizen. Why punish someone for doing the right thing?

Healthcare professionals, especially nurses, were the worst. 

I had a very brutal miscarriage, which required surgery. At the start, I was treated nicely by nurses but when they found out I was on ORT, everything changed. They took away my pain management. I went from being a human being, deserving of care and compassion, to being treated as a devious, irresponsible and dodgy ‘drug user’.

These were educated healthcare professionals. ORT is considered a health condition, and I know wouldn’t treat someone with diabetes in such an appalling way. They really should have known better. 

Because of my experiences, I am now scared to tell healthcare professionals that I’m on opioid replacement treatment.

While I have admittedly had troubling patterns of drug use, after I dealt with that it was a completely different story. I would still  smoke a bit of ice every few months, or have some coke or ecstasy at a party. My drug use became manageable, beneficial and under control, and allowed me to live my life very happily.  The message ‘once an addict, always an addict’ is harmful. That’s the message they tell in rehab, but my experiences prove otherwise. 

There are only two ‘drug stories’ told by politicians and the media: either someone overdosing or a complete redemption arc. We hear about rock stars and celebrities who go off the tracks, and then they die. Or we hear about people who once used drugs and now are ‘clean’. It’s one or the other. 

You don’t hear about people like me, getting through tough times, and who after that still enjoyed drugs socially. If someone is struggling with problematic drug use, and believes those are the only two options, it’s so easy to accept a defeatist mentality. 

Drug users are homogenised by society. We’re all criminal and deviant. We have to communicate a new message that drug use isn’t always violent and deadly. We have to normalise drug use so that people don’t annihilate themselves. When you feel so excluded, when you feel so damaged, that’s all you want to do: annihilate yourself.  I truly internalised that. I hated myself, and thought I was worthless so I behaved in ways that confirmed that belief. I didn’t look after myself. I didn’t think that I was of use to society, or that society cared about me. 

Now I am a mother of two, work in the drug and alcohol space and am passionate about social justice. If someone wants to call me a ‘junkie’ or judge my past and present decisions to consume drugs, it doesn’t affect my life as much.  

I am now in a position where I feel confident speaking openly about my past. I want to share my story because I truly believe that if I hadn’t fallen through so many gaps, my drug use would not have got so out of control.

If you have lived experiences with drugs and five minutes to spare, share your story with Unharm today.

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Image Credit:
Lachie Millard, The Daily Telegraph