This article is created in partnership with Queensland Health’s Ice Help campaign. Recovery is possible and help is available. To find anonymous and confidential help for you or a loved one, visit qld.gov.au/icehelp
This article discusses suicide, anxiety, depression and mental health issues. If you or a loved one need help, call the 24-hour Lifeline Australia crisis hotline on 13 11 14 or reach out to Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
“I’m Lawrence Rogers, I’m 37, and I’ve now been free of drug addiction for 12 months and it’s been the best 12 months of my life.”
Lawrence, or Lawry to those who know him, got into drug use the way most people do. Socially, with friends, at parties, and always a few drinks deep. What started out as a bit of “dabbling” became more routine until Lawry wasn’t using for fun, but to escape.
“I’ve had a couple of significant things happen in my life that I just didn’t address. Once I moved past the drinking, it turned into drug use, and then just progressed from that.”
“When something really traumatic happened to me, two and a half years ago, everything just burst to the surface and I became an everyday user, injecting [crystal] methamphetamine.”
Lawry is a muscular guy, covered in tats, who looks like he could be a drummer in a punk band. He’s good looking, clean-shaven, and with a short-back-and-sides haircut that gives him a wild-but-sensible demeanour. He’s also an incredibly eloquent speaker.
Crystal methamphetamine—commonly referred to as ice—is everywhere. While people do use ice in big cities, it’s regional and rural communities where the drug is more prevalent and other substances like heroin and cocaine are harder to get. In these places, like coastal Gladstone, about six hours up the Bruce Highway from Brisbane, ice use has a strong grip and damaging social impact.
Lawry grew up in Gladstone after moving to the town as a child from New Zealand.
“We moved directly to Gladstone as my grandfather—my mum’s father—was dying of cancer. We were only supposed to be here for six weeks. In rehab, I put that down as the first traumatic event in my life. Being so young, uprooted from everything I knew.”
As he got older and drug use became commonplace for him, Lawry claims to have been a “high functioning drug user.”
“I could still maintain my job while I went to work,” he says. “Family life wasn’t the best it could have been, but I was still able to maintain a day-to-day life”.
This all changed irrevocably when he was involved in a car accident. There was at least one fatality, an experience Lawry describes as “horrific.” From there, everything spiralled. Lawry had been a mechanic for most of his working life and his career began to rapidly unravel.
“I didn’t have the right tools to be able to combat what I actually experienced,” he says. “I had been clean leading into my job. I was clean on my job. But unfortunately [while recovering from the accident] I resorted back to what I knew. And that was drugs.
“I went from a casual user to an everyday user. I was fired from my job for failing a drug test and then I was left to my own devices for probably a year-and-a-half. I didn’t know how else to seek help, or get reprieve from what I was seeing when I closed my eyes. The only way I could do that was to keep them open and that was through drug use.
“The further I went down that rabbit hole, the darker it got. I found myself in a really bad state. I was withdrawn from society; I isolated myself badly. My whole world just started revolving around drugs and anything to do with drugs. I started becoming violent. I was breaking the law. I didn’t really care about anything else. I’ve got four kids and unfortunately, they had a front-row seat to watch me go down.”
Lawry’s story is tragically familiar. Our country has one of the highest usage rates of methamphetamines in the world. According to the latest data from the National Drug Strategy Household survey, 5.8 per cent of Australians had used methamphetamines at least once in their lifetime, and 1.3 per cent had used in the past year, some 300,000 people.
For context, the same survey found that 11.6 percent of Aussies have used cannabis in the past 12 months, 4.2 have used cocaine, and 3 per cent have used MDMA. However, those people who do use methamphetamines use it much more regularly than MDMA or cocaine users.
Methamphetamines come in a number of forms including powder, paste, pills, and the crystalline form we call ‘ice’. Around 50 per cent of the drug is used as the latter.
While the stats above are survey data, the arguably more comprehensive analysis of the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, which measures the by-products of drug use in the nation’s sewage systems, found that methamphetamines, like ice, are the most consumed illicit drug in Australia (though cannabis was not compared here).
No other drug pumps the brain full of as much dopamine—a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure—or noradrenaline—one of the major fight-or-flight chemicals— as ice does. The euphoric high is very short and leaves the user with an energetic feeling of hyper-alertness for up to eight hours following. That sudden rush, combined with the relatively low price and the broad availability of the drug, are all contributing factors in what makes ice so addictive.
However, addiction isn’t simply formed by drug use. Users often report that the high from drug use ‘fixes’ or soothes some underlying problem. In a sense, it’s self-medication. For those who have experienced trauma, that freedom from the sufferings of the past is why it can be so hard to stop using. This is what happened to Lawry.
“In my darkest point, I was sitting on the end of my bed, crying. I had no food, no money to put petrol in my car. I couldn’t even go and see my kids. I was like, ‘This is gonna change. There’s got to be a better way of life’.”
Lawry’s biggest support through all of this has been his parents. He readily admits that he treated them poorly when he was using ice, getting into constant shouting matches and near-fights with his dad. However, they always came back to support him and he ultimately allowed them to take control and accept help when he needed it most. Lawry’s dad, Ed, sits beside him during our chat. He has dreadlocks that tumble down his back and listens carefully as Lawry explains his story.
“Rock bottom is not rock bottom,” Ed explains. “A lot of people will say, ‘Let’s wait and see when he hits rock bottom.’ Well, somehow he found the hole through rock bottom and just kept going and creating more trauma for our family.
“When we thought he was there, he wasn’t there. For us to not lose our son to drugs, we kept giving him a lifeline, enabling him. His kids are our grandkids and we couldn’t just say, ‘Fuck it, your kids are gonna starve.’ Ed says child protective services would have removed Lawry’s children had he not taken them in.
“We knew that if we gave him money, then his next dole cheque was going straight up his arm or between his toes. It took us a while to find that rock bottom that we thought he was going to be able to come back from and we did. And that was a really good thing.”
Lawry was luckier than some. The insurance company dealing with the fall out of the car crash decided to pay for a private rehabilitation centre for him. As he found out, the connection he made with others in recovery became the most powerful tool he had to rely on.
“That’s the point of an NA [narcotics anonymous] meeting,” he says. “If you walk into that meeting, you’re welcomed. It’s a different feeling than what you’re used to because you isolate [yourself] so much that you don’t know what those feelings are like anymore.
“You walk into one of these meetings and everyone there is walking their own journey, with all of their own losses. You can just sit down and you can just listen. You’ll make connections with people that will know the right thing to do to give you that reprieve from using. It’s a simple program for complicated people, but meeting and connection has been everything.”
The support that Lawry found within recovery was instrumental in abstaining from drug use. His family, however, were the key to much of his rehabilitation. Ed and Lawry both recount the difficulties and triumphs they faced in performing even mundane tasks like going to the shops. Gladstone, like many regional communities, is a small town. In small towns, everyone knows everyone.
“When we first started shopping, Lawry would be pointing out all these people,” says Ed. “He’d say, ‘That’s my friend that I used with’ or ‘That’s who I got drugs from’. I’d say, ‘We’ve got to go, we’re running late.’ So I’d push them away from him.”
“Running defence,” Lawry says, describing his dad’s strategy.
“The best thing is, I don’t have to hide what I’m thinking,” Lawry continues. “I can openly talk to my dad now, as my number-one support person. I’ve just been lucky that he has been able to be there for me for the past 12 months. Because I didn’t want to go to the shops. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to run into people. And anywhere that I went, I had someone there to support me.”
Ed says that allowing Lawry to talk about his anger and the trauma he experienced has been the biggest help for his son and a catalyst for bringing the family back together.
“Because I went through part of his journey, I was able to say, ‘We can do this. We can work this out together,’” Ed explains.
Even with this rock-solid support network, Lawry has faced serious challenges during his recovery. Lawry’s brother died by suicide when Lawry was much younger. This became one of the mountains of trauma that fuelled his need to use. In the very early days of his recovery process, his eldest daughter attempted suicide too.
“What will make me use was my children being hurt, or the hurt that I suffered from my brother [dying by] suicide,” says Lawry. “To have those two things combined into one, so fresh out of rehab, I didn’t think I would be in a position to face it as early as I had to.
“I was able to get through it, but it was the hardest thing. As soon as I saw [my daughter] and as soon as it clicked what had happened, I was instantly triggered to want to use and just run away. I walked out of the room and my mom and dad were in the waiting room. I just straight up was like, ‘I want to use’.”
“And I was there,” Ed adds.
“Yeah, someone was there for me,” Lawry continues. “I explained it, I got it straight out of my head. I knew I wanted to use, but I told someone about it. And then I started to work down that list of what I need to do to be able to get through it. When I told him I wanted to use, it was a little bit less. I went and had something to eat, it was a little bit less.
“I was even faced with a fork in the road walking out of that hospital to go get my car. Something that was another big trigger was the needle dispensing machine. When I was going to my car, right at that point, I could have made the turn to go and get the needles, or get in the car to have something to eat. Thankfully I went to my car and made it through.”
Having a supportive family is how Lawry was able to structure and maintain his recovery. He’s very aware however that not everyone has a family as patient as his own.
“My family being right by my side was what actually got me through. But even though I had my family supporting my recovery, I found family when I went into recovery. These people welcomed me with open arms. I made those connections because I reached out. You can ring anyone that you’ve connected with in recovery and they’ll answer the phone and talk you through it.
“I’ve still got a lot of noise going on in my head,” he continues. “If I entertain the shit that’s in my head, without getting it out, my own voice tells me it’s a good idea. That’s extremely dangerous. Whereas, when you have a connection with the people in recovery, it becomes safer upstairs.”
Twelve months without using drugs is a huge milestone for Lawry. He’s now dedicated himself to remaining on the path of sobriety.
“When I go to a meeting and I hear from someone that’s been clean for 25 years, I’m just like, ‘I want that.’ I want to reach that milestone and be proud of that. I’m proud of where I’ve been able to get to now and I definitely want to keep going. I don’t want to go back to the life that I had. I don’t want to be sitting in the dark, crying on the end of my bed.”
When he’s ready, Lawry isn’t going back to being a mechanic. Instead, he wants to help others on their journey of recovery.
“I want to try and be of service. I think it would be a lot more rewarding.”
For now, he’s taking it one day at a time and focusing on repairing the relationships he’s damaged through his use of drugs. The results, he’s happy to report, are already having an effect.
“I’ve become more engaged. I’ve become a responsible role model. I’m actually able to support my kids in a way that they haven’t seen before.”
This article is created in partnership with Queensland Health’s Ice Help campaign. To find anonymous and confidential help for you or a loved one, visit qld.gov.au/icehelp
People who use ice can and do recover. If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s drug use, contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS), a free 24-hour 7-day anonymous and confidential service on 1800 177 833 to speak to one of their counsellors.